always on damage control
- “Everything is #1 priority!”
When I hear this, it immediately tells me a few things. 1.) The person has no idea how to prioritize, 2.) they probably have their very own way of organizing everything, and while it might work for them, it only works for them and is stressing everyone else out. (You’ll know the person because in their home or office there’s a huge mess of papers and documents with no distinguishable order to an outside observer, but they claim they know where everything is.) 3.) They are unaware that they’re putting undue stress on themselves and others.
The problem with telling yourself, coworkers, and employees “everything is at the top of the list!” is that you are not allowing organization to happen. The planning stage of all issues are suddenly halted, and everyone is sent running in all directions at everything, no matter the level of urgency. Think of it as trying to fix a leaky roof; while you’re busy putting buckets under the drips in the living room, there’s a downpour in the bathroom.
- Fear of pivoting
Pivoting a business or project idea is powerful, because it means staying true to the original vision but perhaps being flexible with the means of getting there. However, some managers lack the introspection and openness to change pivoting requires, or are so deep in the weeds of the day to day fire-fighting that they can’t take the time and think outside the box. Pivoting also sometimes means putting aside work you’ve already accomplished and having to learn new processes, which many managers claim that they simply don’t have the time for.
- Not understanding the full scope and size
Running from disaster to disaster also tells me that the issues are not fully understood. Some business may start with a great idea and lofty goals that at first seem totally reachable with a little elbow grease and initial research, but putting those ideas into action starts to reveal unforeseen barriers.
Not understanding the size of a project or issue causes unqualified teams or teams that are too small to take them on, and it causes businesses to burn through their resources faster than expected.
- Get out of your own organization patterns!
- Just because it works for you doesn’t mean it’s working for everyone else.
- One of my internships was spent assisting the controller of a TV station with filing all the documents that came through the entire station. This took place in a back room filled with rusted Cold War era filing cabinets with no labels on the outside, and manila folders, with tabs that were worn off so no one (except for the controller) could know what each folder was for. That meant that each document had to be taken to her, and she had to point to the exact folder in an avalanche of files that the document had to be put into. She wouldn’t hear any suggestions like, “Can we just write the folder name on the outside?” because, in her words, it would make “the folder look different” and she wouldn’t be able to find it herself. So, she remained in total control of every piece of paper, and everyone else had to either memorize her system or be at her mercy. I’m not still bitter. Nope.
- Is your own timeline and deadline perhaps okay with you, but others are finding it hard to cope? Try giving yourself and your team more time on the next project. Try putting up more, and more frequent check-ins and smaller, softer deadlines to keep everyone on the same page.
- Listen to your team. When do they seem the most stressed? Which deadlines are they finding difficult to keep? Keep your ears open to their suggestions, because if they can come up with the idea and implement it themselves, studies show that they’ll be more content with the results.
- Keep it all in perspective by looking at how far you’ve come occasionally. People can get burnt out if all they see is an unending ocean of work and problems ahead of them and can’t see how well they’ve done. This also helps highlight both individual achievements to highlight the best people on your team, or to show how well everyone has worked together over time.
- Continuous process improvement. This isn’t one huge fix to save the entire company – it’s a million little fixes, all the time.
- Get some help!
- Are all your processes dependent on everyone having all hands-on deck, all the time? What happens if you or a team member gets sick, or quits? – which is likely being under all that stress all the time. You may need to hire a few extra people.
- If you’re saying, “I’d love to hire some more employees, but we don’t have the money!” Try out freelancers or a few part time people. You could even use interns in exchange for college credit – but please, follow the legal guidelines to make sure they’re benefitting it as well. If you find that you still can’t afford the help, it might be time to scale back.
- Scale back. There’s a reason that this is the final item on the list. For most people, this is a last resort option. After all, scaling back production means less output and therefore less income. You may need to find ways to scale back, to slow down, give yourself some breathing room, before you can move on to better processes.