Hello again loyal leaders, it’s Capt. Fletch! Today’s forecast: sunny and hot with a 100% chance of another edition of Leadership Toolbox. Last month, we discussed the power of milestones and the major successes that can come from celebrating small wins. This month, we examine the antithesis to milestones. How do you react and recover when you and your team are overloaded?
Work sequencing is perhaps one of the most overlooked tasks in all construction. It sometimes seems daunting — particularly on bigger jobs — to look at work tasks in a schedule and determine the resources required and feasibility of success. Try thinking of a project schedule as simply a list of tasks to get from nothing to the project’s end goal. In other words, a schedule is a to-do list. I grant that this may overly simplify things. A project schedule’s to-do lists can get lengthy and highly complex. But it serves as a useful framework when we begin determining the order in which to complete these tasks.
When I think about a successful schedule, I consider taking the time to “resource-level” it key. How, as leaders, can we determine if we have the personnel and equipment to complete a task if we do not consider these things at the beginning of the project? Without doing so from the start, organizations can easily burn out people, equipment or both. Of course, you can repair or replace a piece of equipment, but people are invaluable — or, at least, that’s how I think we should view our people.
I recently had my annual review at work. My supervisor said something I had heard before, but this time it registered differently. We were discussing that our department’s understaffing and the overload some personnel face. I had many times brought up the disparity I see in work assigned to project managers, but no one seemed to listen. After I reiterated this point again to my supervisor, he mentioned our need to approach the workload one bite at a time. Actually, he talked about the impossibility of eating an elephant in one bite, but I never really enjoyed the thought of eating an elephant.
As he continued talking, I felt myself return to an old and simple leadership thought: What can I control? I returned to my desk after my review and I feverishly scribbled in a notebook. I thought about all the things within my power to control, and then eliminating the things outside of my control. From there, I began to piece together what I could do to make things better and actively contribute to the success of the team.
Large organizations typically lack the resources, time and motivation to execute change management plans. Often, the highest-level leaders consume themselves with the work, leaving little time to think strategically about how their organization functions. In such situations, I find John Maxwell’s concept of the 360-degree leader useful: Every employee has the ability to lead from where they are in the organization. Every employee has the ability to control something in an organization because every employee has responsibility for something. We entrust every employee with some level of oversight over their work. What if employees sought to understand and leverage things within their control instead of focusing on emotions attached to things outside of their control?
Looking at the mountain of work assigned in an organization can stir up plenty of emotions. I know from experience. It is easy to look around, see peers with a different workload and carry a negative attitude about it. In my case, I began to realize I do not control the work distribution. I am not the project scheduler in the department. Instead of focusing on comparing workloads, I began to focus on my own.
There are thousands of theories, methods and ideas about how to manage and organize yourself for success. The perfect solution … looks different for every person.
This is the fun part, where we learn there is more than one way to cut a steak. There are thousands of theories, methods and ideas about how to manage and organize yourself for success. The perfect solution to self-management or time management — or whatever you want to call it — looks different for every person. The key to success requires understanding the overall goals of the organization and your role in it, as well as what is and isn’t in your control. From there, you can brainstorm, plan, doodle or whatever you need to do. You can determine how to best chip away at a monumental workload, and potentially help others or change the entire organization in the process. Yes, by focusing on what you can control, you could potentially affect the entire organization through your actions. Who knows? Maybe you’ll find yourself in a more senior role in the process.
The truth is we often find it easier to focus on what we cannot control. Our emotions drive us to obsess about things that negatively affect us. However, by choosing to look at things from a factual, almost scientific, viewpoint, we can begin to strategically understand and plan how to manage ourselves. If you serve as a senior leader in an organization full of overloaded people, consider giving them a good listen. Take the time to hear from the people who work on the frontlines for you every day. Work hard to understand what they need and then implement the changes that will empower them to be most effective.
Lastly, however you proceed, keep your processes simple. One of the best tactics for organization I ever received was from a guest speaker in officer training. He said everyday he would write the three most important things on his to-do list for the day and then work like hell to get them done. He kept all the cards in his desk as a reminder, when he felt overwhelmed, of what he had accomplished. If you or your organization are feeling overloaded in the dog days of summer, try taking smaller bites.
Until next time, Capt. Fletch over and out.