I've been fascinated by story after story in the papers and on the web that - less than two weeks before the election - the polls may not really reflect a true Obama lead. One AP Poll had them as close as one point as of Wednesday. Some polls still predict an Obama landslide, while others are severely pulling back their predictions, a few saying the election is too close to call.
What happened to the commanding lead Obama held a couple of weeks ago? Is the "liberal elite media" learning their lesson from the 2004 Election Day? Are the polls really reflecting what's going on? In this mixed up election year drama, I'd say anything is possible. It just seems odd that the story is changing so quickly when it appeared a slam dunk. Were the earlier leads just spin? Is McCain really going to pull off an upset? Is the "race card" a factor? Are the recent gap closures meant to scare people into voting for Obama? Did Joe Biden scare people with his doomsday scenario that will "test Obama"? Are Sarah Palin and Tina Fey really separated at birth? So many questions!
In office politics, we have to watch out for changing stories all the time as well. Somebody will commit something one day and pretend they never met you the next. People will say they'll have it done by Friday, only to look surprised when they exclaim, "Oh, you meant THIS Friday?!" Executives will want something "as soon as possible" only to be shocked when it is shoved to the bottom of the priority pile because it wasn't yet as soon as possible in the underling's schedule.
How can you prevent a blindside when stories change a the last minute? Here are a few techniques I've used:
- Be clear - don't ask for it by Wednesday. "I need it by noon CDT on Wednesday, October 29, 2008." This will leave a lot less ambiguity. This heightens the visibility and accountability of the task.
- Create checkpoints - rather than waiting until the end just to find out it didn't get done, ask for updates (along with documentation and tangible evidence) a week in advance, 48 hours in advance, 24 hours in advance, and the morning of the due date. Annoying? Only if the person is shunning accountability.
- Identify "done" - let them know up front what the criteria to complete the task looks like. This will prevent the "oh, it's technically done... we just have a little tweaking to do." A check mark is earned, not given.
- Provide rewards and consequences - if it's a major milestone, I start with positive rewards which should motivate the team. If I perceive there may be political slackers, I try to make sure there are clear consequences.
- Mitigate - have a Plan B. "If we miss this milestone, we will have to..." This prevents a mere communication blindside from becoming a major disaster.
So how do you handle the potential "poll dancing" of public opinion on your projects?