TED POLLOCK, MANAGEMENT CONSULTANT
If you consider how your workday is spent, in all probability you will find that much of it is devoted to just a few activities: reading, writing or dictating, telephoning and talking to people in person. Because these four major activities usually take place in a haphazard way, valuable time is frequently wasted in looking for things, making the mental switch from one activity to another, backtracking, and so on.
Try organizing your day around these basic duties. Set aside one period of time exclusively for making telephone calls, another for dictating letters and memos, a third for reading, a fourth for personal interviews. Of course, you will have to make allowances for the unexpected, but by segmenting your day. You will get more done with a minimum of conflict.
Another trap that many of us fall into is the temptation to linger over responsibilities that we particularly enjoy while neglecting other, more demanding tasks. One person, for example, may actually like to sign the mail because it requires no great thought, no decision-making ability, no risk taking. But the good time manager reduces the number of routine tasks needing attention and increases the number of tough jobs to be tackled.
OVERCOMING STATUS QUO THINKING
Change-in methods, policies, opportunities-comes so fast these days that it’s a rare person indeed who is doing the same work in the same way as he was a few short years ago.
Many employees find the transition from old to new an uncomfortable experience. Some merely grumble; others may sulk, do poor work, even become chronically absent from the job in protest.
As a manager, one of your responsibilities is frequently to persuade your people to stop doing one thing and to begin doing another. But, how, precisely, can you do this? Some suggestions:
- Make your proposals timely. Ask yourself: Is the proposal fully developed? Are my people completely prepared for it? Can I act on it now, even if they do accept it? If adopted, will the proposal conflict with any other projects already under way? If the answer to these questions is yes, your proposal is probably timely.
- Break the news gradually. Take your time and lead the listener to your point in easy stages. If you expect to get new or complicated concepts across to employees quickly, you’re doomed to disappointment. This is the main reason why crisis communications rarely succeed and continuous communication is important. You must get your ideas across bit by bit. Don’t spring them on an employee without introduction or conditioning. One good approach is to ask questions. For example, if you want to win support for new equipment, you might ask, “How is the old machine holding up? How much downtime did we have on it last month? Would you recommend putting in a new model? How would you like to operate it?”
- Don’t exaggerate the issue. If you are contemplating putting in a new machine, don’t give the impression that you are toying with the idea of automating the entire floor. Explain what you have in mind in clear, simple language and make sure that everyone hears it from you. Things have a way of getting exaggerated in the retelling.
- Tell the whole story. Since the details will come out eventually, let them come from you. That includes any unpleasant information that may be involved in the change.
- Accent the positive. No matter what the change portends, there must be a good side to it. Play it up.
- Don’t oversell. It’s only human to build up the benefits of something new, but don’t go overboard. People have uncanny memories for promises made or advantages cited. If things don’t live up to your predictions, you may never hear the end of it.
- Invite comments. There will be questions, comments, suspicions. Let them come out; otherwise, the rumor mill will grind the facts into a fine powder and reconstruct something entirely different from what you have in mind. It may take twice as long to scotch a rumor once it’s taken wing than to nip it in the bud while you can.
NONESSENTIALS THAT SAP ENERGY
Perhaps the fundamental characteristic of an efficient manager is energy, for without it even the best of intentions are thwarted. When you are tired, you cannot think, plan, judge, communicate, delegate, create or do anything else effectively.
While it goes without saying that good health is a necessity, an often-overlooked corollary: Invest your energy in those things that are important to your job and avoid those that aren’t.
Among the nonessentials that drain too many managers:
- Worries over the distant future. It’s pointless to worry past a certain date on the calendar, for too many imponderables may be introduced by the passage of time. From experience, you should have a feel for how far into the future you can look with any realistic hope of altering it. Past that point, forget it.
- Regret over the past. There is even less point in dwelling on what has already occurred. You goofed? Well, who hasn’t, at one time or another? If you have learned something from your error, it hasn’t been committed entirely in vain. Remember the lesson; forget the rest.
- Doubt over the present. Not every decision deserves to be arrived at painfully. Many deal with relatively unimportant matters: who should attend a meeting, who should be copied on a memo, when a good time for vacation would be. Save the agonizing for the few truly big decisions you are called on to make.
- Suspicion of others. Some managers, particularly ambitious ones, see plots where they don’t exist. As a rule of thumb, it is safe to assume that your subordinates, peers and superiors do not lie awake at night thinking up ways to do you dirt. What you suspect others of doing may be a better index to your own character than to theirs.
IF YOU WANT THE TRUTH, GIVE OFF GOOD VIBES
People are sensitive to whether or not the boss wants to be leveled with. There are ways you ask for an opinion that are as intimidating as the bald statement, “I want your agreement on this.”
If by intonation, gesture, or eye contact you create an environment of hostility toward candor, forget honesty; you will only hear what you want to hear.
A manager must send out clear signals of being interested in the cons as well as the pros of a proposition. Try prefacing you request with such openings as, “I value your opinion. What do you think of this?” or “This is tricky and I suspect I haven’t thought it completely through.”