To:EVERYONE From: President Subject: URGENT: read this right now.
If you get an email marked “urgent” from your supervisor, do you immediately comply with the directive?
Some of you will, some of you won’t. If you’re in a workgroup, that’s a problem. If you don’t have uniform response to how you prioritize things, how will your brand provide consistent service? What is an emergency to one person is a “I’ll get to it when I can” to another. That’s one reason hospitals are so stressful for visitors. Try caring for a loved one in a hospital and pressing the call button and waiting – very tough. Your priority is not the priority of some of the nursing or other medical staff. They have to manage multiple priorities and relative importance, not absolute importance.
The reason we often get in trouble is a very normal combination of time management, differing priorities, differing motivations, and differing ambition and/or attitudes.
Each person chooses different routes and clients, coworkers and prospects get upset when their priorities aren’t in sync with the of the service provider. Do you want your brand to get a “well, it depends on who helps you” review on Yelp? No, you probably want to be known as a consistently great service with consistently great results.
Your workgroup is not going to suddenly become a group of clones who prioritize things equally. But you need to try to agree on what will and what won’t wait, otherwise you’ll stay in a constant state of chaos and internal frustration. Bars have this challenge: bartenders have to choose based on tips, courtesy of patrons, who has been waiting the longest, who is a VIP, etc. Some people give up and leave the bar, some people are treated better than others. Savvy nightclub owners tier their service and pricing, so “bottle service” is available to those who insist on a certain service level and are willing to pay for it. Everyone wins: great service for the patron, great tips for the server, great bar tab for the bar owner. That requires a structural modification to the nightclub, however, both physically and also in the training and brand management for its employees.
Information workers get bombarded with these choices daily, in high quantities.
• Do I help the admin coworker that just instant messaged me? • Do I help the client that just told me something was an emergency? • Do I go through my inbox and read every message before deciding what to do? • Do I help the coworkers I like and then help the ones I don’t like as much later? • Do I help the person who can help my career advance? • Do I do the project that is interesting to me or the one that’s boring but more time-sensitive? • Do I do the stuff that’s “required” but not as “appreciated”, like documentation or work summaries? • Do I help 5 people at a “good” level or 2 people at an “amazing” level (and in the process frustrate 3 who wanted my help as well)
Few knowledge workers are hired because of their innate time management skills. Most firms have to send their people to project management training classes.
If your company is having problems with upset customers, it can mean a number of things:
1. the company is doing something right (if no one is calling to try to hire you, you have bigger problems) 2. the company is doing something wrong (not scaling its growth, not limiting access to its services, not managing team actively enough, not setting client expectations) 3. the company needs to align its team more on which clients and/or projects will be impacted by having to make the tough choices (i.e. “what work we don’t do immediately?”) 4. some customers could just be bad eggs and need to be fired by your company 5. company may have bad eggs who are hurting customer relationships by not caring enough 6. the expectations by customers have increased to an unrealistic level and need more active expectation management
The likelihood is that you don’t have bad eggs. You may have folks who are highly stressed and therefore not motivated to radically change how they spend their day, especially if it’s significantly different from their normal routine. Absent or seemingly clueless management isn’t immune to this: these issues create much, much more work for them, and they know it. It’s not an easy thing for them to fix, though, because there are so many levers to adjust. So, what’s the fix?
Use this rule of thumb until you have time to get your team in a room to synchronize your priorities: if you or someone on your team is being pressured into cutting corners or forsaking process because of these time management challenges, try this: next time you’re pulled in multiple directions, email your supervisor with a simple “I’m being asked to do this____ and this ____ at the same time and I’m not sure how to accommodate both without sacrificing quality. Unless I hear otherwise, here’s what I’m going to do, but I’m concerned about the outcome”
Then see if you and your supervisor agree on how to resolve it. If you do, then you’ll fail as a team instead of individually. That’s a big stress reliever. And if your supervisor disagrees on how to manage the load, perhaps they’ll go to bat for you with your coworkers so that you’re not as bombarded with choices throughout the day.
Someone will be disappointed. That’s inevitable. A great restaurant disappoints the person who didn’t make a reservation months in advance, making the experience better for everyone else. The restaurant that seats as many patrons as it can gets table after table wondering where their food is, and the kitchen and waitstaff are miserable. Bottle service at a club ensures the revenue for the club, tips for the staff, and leg room for the people willing to pay for it. Everyone wins, except for those folks waiting in line outside.
Agree on your priorities.
p.s. if you’re based on the East Coast, please substitute “on line” for “in line” in the last paragraph.