The famous Secretary of State Henry Kissinger had an Intern working for him. On one random Thursday morning, Secretary Kissinger asks the Intern to write a position paper on a particular topic.
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The Intern is excited and spends the next couple of hours writing this paper. As he leaves for the day, he drops the report off on Secretary Kissinger’s desk. Feeling pretty proud he goes to the bar with a friend and has a couple of drinks. His buddy, and many people sitting close by, can hear him boasting that he is now writing positions for the Great Secretary Kissinger.
As the Intern drives into work early that Friday morning, he’s anxious and wondering if the Secretary would comment on his paper. The Intern is smiling as he walks the halls of Foggy Bottom. As he comes closer to his desk, he sees his report lying there with a handwritten note on top of it:
“You can do better than this” - HK
A little deflated, the Intern plopped down at the desk, read the paper, and objectively realized, he could have done better. So, he pushed his workload aside and began to tackle this paper all over again. He tore it apart, re-wrote passages, did more research, and worked almost all day on this new revision. He had worked straight thru lunch and finished around 4 pm.
He knocks on the Secretary’s door to find that he isn’t in and drops the paper on his desk. As he walked out of the office, he was pretty sure that he would like this one.
Having worked through lunch he was quite hungry and went to the cafeteria to grab a quick bite. He was gone for about 45 minutes. When he returned to his desk, his paper was positioned directly in the center, with another handwritten note.
“You can do better than this” - HK
“Does he realize that I spent the last 7 hours writing this?” the Intern thought. Before he started throwing things around and getting angry, he took a deep breath and asked himself, what am I missing? First, he re-read the paper, making red marks on the pages. Then, seeing quite a few in the 8-page document, he thought, “maybe I need to compare this to the Secretary’s work.” So, the Intern digs up old files and finds quite a few random position papers Secretary Kissinger wrote over the years. He carried the boxes back to his desk, thinking, this is going to be a very long day.
As he poured over the files, he began to realize that there were certain angles that he hadn’t considered, and he was also missing supporting research. Where else do you go in Washington D.C. for research? Off he went to the Library of Congress and spent the entire weekend. Yes, he read, researched, and noted everything he could on the subject and spent the next three days and nights working on the report.
At 7:30 am Monday, still in the same clothes from Friday, he sat at his desk waiting for the great man to come into the office. Finally, seeing Secretary Kissinger walk into his office, the Intern stood up, straightened the tie around his unshaven neck, and confidently walked into the Secretary’s office.
“Excuse me, Secretary Kissinger, I’m sorry to barge in like this.”
“What is on your mind so early?” Kissinger asks
“Sir, the position paper you asked me to write and rewrite two times is now complete. Before you read this and turn it back to me, saying that I can do better, please take this into consideration. I spent the entire weekend reading everything published on this subject, researching every contingency and thought on this position. I even dug up old position papers that you wrote to compare my thoughts and work on what you had done in the past. So please, sir, understand that I can’t do any better than this.” And the Intern handed him the 36-page report.
The Secretary smiled and responded, “Thank you for the effort; this one I’ll read.”
The Moral of the Story
If you are going to do it, put your best efforts into it. You don’t want to be HK’d by the boss.
If you are going to put together a proposal for a customer, make sure It is your best work. Your work product is often in emails, written proposals, and presentations. Those documents will be how your clients will remember you. So, if you are going to do it, do it well, give it your all, and be proud of your work. Do what the intern had done, and do not leave a stone unturned.
This work is our living legacy. When we aren’t in the conference room to explain what we meant, they have these bodies of work to reference. Not only do you want the proposals and written materials to stand out above the competition, but we also want them to be clear, concise, and professionally lay out your position on the subjects. That written work will be referenced when your clients are making their decision. You will not receive a phone call from them asking, “Hey, we are in the sourcing meeting and can’t remember what you said to us in that meeting.”
Do it right the first time, and don’t say you are too busy.
“If you don’t have enough time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” – John Wooden.
The Kole Performance Group is an executive coaching organization that truly believes hard work today will lead to better tomorrows.