The Unwritten Rules of Management

William Swanson's Unwritten Rules of Management

William Swanson’s unwritten rules of management is full of pithy advice. Swanson is the Chairman and CEO of Raytheon.

Originally a part of a presentation to engineers and scientists at Raytheon, someone asked him to write his rules down.

Thankfully he listened, the result is Swanson’s Unwritten Rules of Management.

Not all of the rules are Swanson’s. Some of them were published in 1944 in The Unwritten Laws of Engineering by W. J. King. (The book was updated in the early 2000’s by James G. Skakoon.)

In The Unwritten Rules of Management, Swanson elaborates on these rules with a paragraph or two.

  1. Learn to say, “I don’t know.” If used when appropriate, it will be often.
  2. It is easier to get into something than it is to get out of it.
  3. If you are not criticized, you may not be doing much.
  4. Look for what is missing. Many know how to improve what’s there, but few can see what isn’t there.
  5. Presentation rule: When something appears on a slide presentation, assume the world knows about it, and deal with it accordingly.
  6. Work for a boss to whom you can tell it like it is. Remember that you can’t pick your relatives, but you can pick your boss.
  7. Constantly review developments to make sure that the actual benefits are what they are supposed to be. Avoid Newton’s Law.
  8. However menial and trivial your early assignments may appear, give them your best efforts.
  9. Persistence or tenacity is the disposition to persevere in spite of difficulties, discouragement, or indifference. Don’t be known as a good starter but a poor finisher.
  10. In doing your project, don’t wait for others; go after them, and make sure it gets done.
  11. Confirm the instructions you give others, and their commitments, in writing. Don’t assume it will get done!
  12. Don’t be timid; speak up. Express yourself, and promote your ideas.
  13. Practice shows that those who speak the most knowingly and confidently often end up with the assignment to get the job done.
  14. Strive for brevity and clarity in oral and written reports.
  15. Be extremely careful of the accuracy of your statements.
  16. Don’t overlook the fact that you are working for a boss. Keep him or her informed. Whatever the boss wants, within the bounds of integrity, takes top priority.
  17. Promises, schedules, and estimates are important instruments in a well-ordered business. You must make promises — don’t lean on the often-used phrase, “I can’t estimate it because it depends upon many uncertain factors.”
  18. Never direct a complaint to the top. A serious offense is to “cc” a person’s boss on a copy of a complaint before the person has a chance to respond to the complaint.
  19. When dealing with outsiders, remember that you represent the company. Be especially careful of your commitments.
  20. Cultivate the habit of boiling matters down to the simplest terms. An elevator speech is the best way.
  21. Don’t get excited in engineering emergencies. Keep your feet on the ground.
  22. Cultivate the habit of making quick, clean-cut decisions.
  23. When making decisions, the “pros” are much easier to deal with than the “cons.” Your boss wants to see them both.
  24. Don’t ever lose your sense of humor.
  25. Have fun at what you do. It will reflect in your work. No one likes a grump except another grump!
  26. Treat the name of your company as if it were your own.
  27. Beg for the bad news.
  28. You remember 1/3 of what you read, 1/2 of what people tell you, but 100% of what you feel.
  29. You can’t polish a sneaker. (Don’t waste effort putting the finishing touches on something that has little substance to begin with.)
  30. When facing issues or problems that are becoming drawn-out, “short them to the ground.”
  31. When faced with decisions, try to look at them as if you were one level up in the organization. Your perspective will change quickly.
  32. A person who is nice to you but rude to the waiter — or to others — is not a nice person. (This rule never fails.)