Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Encourage staff to say “No” and see the benefits

It is amasing the levels of underperformance we see with staff that arises as a result of undue self-imposed pressure. The sense that many people have that they need to say yes to everything and that to pushback and suggest that they might not be able to do what they are being asked is a sign of incompetence or lack of commitment.

One of the first things to say about these types of individuals is that they are often the brightest and most committed of colleagues we could hope to have in a team. They want to do the best for the business, their manager and themselves. They also often have a tendency to set their own and others’ expectation at unrealistically high and often simply unachievable levels. But in a drive to achieve this they have a significant blind spot that can, if not addressed, cause major problems for both the business and the individual.  

As the individual takes on more and more, trying to work harder and harder, with longer and longer hours they start to create bottlenecks within the business. This is something which they often try to hide and workaround to the detriment of clients, colleagues and the overall business. Eventually something does not get done or gets missed and all too often the role and associated responsibilities become a blocker rather than an enabler to the business. At a personal level the damage can be much more significant. Work is only work at the end of the day, but health has to be paramount. Again too often we miss the tell tale signs of the person becoming more and more reclusive and non-communicative or going the other way and getting bad tempered and aggressive. Such actions are then followed by increasing time off and ill health.

The answer is for management to address the problems before they start and not necessarily immediately at the individual level (although this may often be needed) but rather by openly discussing the subject in team meetings and thereby setting the appropriate tone. This is not for one moment suggesting that we do not want staff to work hard and take personal responsibility for their own effectiveness, but rather to free them to do the best they possibly can by not creating the unnecessary self-imposed pressure. 

When we have been invited to help with such issues the most effective approach has been us to speak with a group on the subject initially. This tends to quickly eliminate those colleagues who do not recognise such tendencies within themselves (although Management should watch out for the occasions on which individuals hide their feelings) and allow those with concerns to voice them within the group, but more often provides the opportunity for them to ask for subsequent one-on-one support.

When coaching with regard to avoiding self-imposed pressure we look to cover such areas as
·         How well do you understand your workload?
·         Find a way to realistically measure what needs to get done
·         Important vs. Urgent
·         Overloaded or procrastinating?
·         When given something extra to do, can you make a trade?
·         Asking for help is a sign of professionalism
·         Always better to say no than say yes and then not do something!

At one client with this approach we helped a middle manager to rethink and restructure their whole approach to how they managed their workload, the fundamental change being a genuine focus on prioritisation. This in turn led to a completely different visualisation by the manager of their To-Do List recognising the non-priority work for what it was, rather than looking at everything they thought they needed to do as a single huge mass. The end result after a few weeks of acclimatisation to the new way of working was that the manager took on more priority work and as such increased their productivity.

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