The Think like a Detective Blog

Weekly tips and tricks that show you how to Think Like a Detective to uncover better insights—from a REAL-LIFE detective turned market detective.

Becoming the Consigliere Through the Doctrine of Completed Staff Work

Mar 30, 2024

If you want to be treated like a consigliere, you must act like a consigliere.

A consigliere is an advisor who helps guide major decisions without being in a formal position of authority.

And leaders don’t want advisors who don’t advise.

So, how do you provide advice to leadership?

Take a lesson from the military “Doctrine of Completed Staff Work,” which can be traced back to the United States military during the Second World War. The doctrine emphasized the importance of subordinates presenting their superiors with well-researched, thoroughly analyzed solutions rather than problems or incomplete information.

Completed Staff Work is characterized by a subordinate thoroughly studying a problem and presenting a solution in such a way that their superiors would only need to approve or disapprove the proposed action.

Completed Staff Work includes the delivery of a clear, compelling, concise point-of-view (POV) backed by data, with clear reasoning. The supporting data and insights should be so rock solid that the POV makes perfect sense.

Notice that Completed Staff Work isn’t the delivery of data. It isn’t a presentation of insights. It is the delivery of counsel.

And notice how Completed Staff Work makes it easy for leadership to move forward.

The concept later transitioned from the military to the business world.

As businesses grew more complex and hierarchical, it became increasingly difficult for leadership to have the context and deep domain knowledge necessary to make all the decisions.

The need for staff members to take ownership of their areas of responsibility and present thoroughly vetted recommendations to their superiors increased.

And it works.

Several companies have successfully implemented the Doctrine of Completed Staff Work. For instance, at Amazon, employees are expected to write six-page narratives outlining their proposals, complete with data and analysis, before presenting them to senior leadership. This approach ensures that decisions are made based on well-researched and thought-out recommendations.

How do you implement this?

Take advice from the father of American psychology William James and,

Act as if.

Act as if you are the consigliere because—as a researcher (or someone who conducts research)—you are in a position to be a de facto consigliere.

And as this consigliere, you should present your Completed Staff Work in three components:

  1. Present your POV

  2. Explain why your POV matters to them (and the business)

  3. Outline the next steps (how to execute)

These three components should be backed by:

  1. Comprehensive research: Thoroughly research and analyze the issue at hand, gathering all relevant data, facts, and perspectives needed for an informed decision.

  2. Clear POV: Your POV is your position—backed by evidence—on a specific issue. It must be clear, compelling, concise, and credible.

  3. Anticipate questions: Anticipate and address likely questions, concerns, or objections from decision-makers, providing a complete and persuasive case.

  4. Concise presentation: Reports and presentations should be concise, well-organized, and easy to understand, respecting decision-makers’ time and attention.

  5. Mission-oriented: Oriented towards achieving the organization’s goals and objectives, not just completing tasks or papers.

The Doctrine of Completed Staff Work provides a powerful framework for researchers and staff to elevate their roles and influence within organizations.

By acting as a consigliere and presenting clear, well-reasoned points of view backed by comprehensive research, you can deliver the counsel leadership needs to make informed decisions.

Employing this approach consistently will establish you as a trusted advisor and strategic partner, cementing your place at the decision-making table.

Inside the mind of a detective.

Weekly tips and tricks that show you how to Think Like a Detective to uncover better insights—from a REAL-LIFE detective turned market detective.