Thursday, May 01, 2008

Getting a Handle on Urgent Matters that Run Wild

Here is an example of misplaced urgency I am sure we can all relate to. You are at the store waiting in line to pay and the phone rings. The clerk answers the phone, talks for a bit and then heads off to go find some information for the caller. Here we are, wallets in hand and waiting to improve the stores immediate revenue numbers and the urgency was transferred from taking our money to chasing a possible future opportunity. Was that urgency transfer proper? What was more important here? This is a great example assumed urgency.

How many times in a day are you redirected to something urgent, something that was not on the list when you awoke in the morning? I will place an educated guess that it is easily in the 1-5 range. As soon as an urgent matter comes up we will typically drop what we are doing and tend to it immediately, leaving what we wanted to do drifting off into the land of unimportant stuff. This is repeated each an every day.

At the end of the day we have this nice list of fires that were extinguished, tasks that we had no intention of dealing with when we popped out of bed. The tasks that were on our planned list, the things that mattered most, took a back seat yet again. Items that we were working on to make things better tomorrow, once again did not move forward today. We are drained, yet still lacking a sense of solid accomplishment for the day. Is this a reality for you?

None of us like to operate this way; we all want to do our best job and that means dealing with the unexpected urgent matters as expeditiously as possible. As managers, we take ownership of the urgent matters and drive them to closure. It's our job to make sure these things are dealt with. Let me pose a couple of questions:

  • Is it our sole responsibility to own the urgent matter or would the organization better served by delegating the responsibility, empowering another individual to resolve the urgent matter, freeing you up to work on what matters?
  • Is the urgent matter really more important than the task we were working on, the one that matters most to the organization and ourselves?
  • Should someone else's sense of urgency directly translate to us without any thought as to it's validity?
The truth is we always have a choice to make when an urgent matter comes up. However, we are programmed to react to a sense of urgency by dropping everything and take care of the matter immediately, leaving ourselves with little time to do what's important to the organization; the plans for a better tomorrow that never seem to get completed. It is a choice between feeding a fire-fighting environment or nurturing an empowered environment of continuous improvement. Upon waking tomorrow resolve yourself to working on what's important, not just what's urgent and see how this impacts your effectiveness.

1 comment:

  1. Your observations are right on!

    I used to manage a team of ASIC design consultants at Synopsys and every day about half of what I dealt with was stuff that was not even on the radar when I came in that day. Some of it came from the client and some of it from the team. Still, quite a lot of it came from my upper management and from other parts of the organization. At the end of each day, I knew I was busy but did not feel like I had accomplished much.

    Besides managers dealing better with these urgent matters, as you suggest, I think upper management in organizations needs to be more frugal in regards to the requests it makes of its management team. As they say, you-know-what rolls downhill, and it can be overwhelming and distracting from the real work.

    I just came upon your blog and have subscribed and will go back and read some of your older posts. Keep it up.

    harry the ASIC guy