Your Urgency May Not Be Mine: Leadership, Team Work, and Random Escalations

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It has been related to me over the course of my work life that I score very low on the “sense of urgency” scale. One time, a long time ago, that data from a personality test was used to not give me a job that I was tremendously qualified for. “Yes,” I said, trying to answer the interviewer’s concerns, “I work pretty hard to keep projects and relationships out of the urgent mode.” She didn’t like my explanation.

Today, I had two different examples of team members trying to get under my skin and push the big red urgent button.

The first one was simply a request to check on a project.

INCIDENT #1

ME: Okay, so do you have a hard deadline for this project?
THEM: Boss wants it up ASAP. The final copy should be to you soon.

And there was one other person involved in the scoping and execution of this project and she weighed in that the design elements were almost complete.

THEM: My boss and my boss’ boss are clamoring to get this out.

Okay, so this person still does not have all the elements necessary to get her project put together.

THEM: I should have final copy for you this afternoon.

And after the second person accepted the need to schedule some design cycles to help this project get in Lotus Notes.

THEM: I still do not think this is the answer. I am sending through Outlook.

We have a meeting scheduled in a few hours between the three of us. But this “Quarterly” publication has gotten delayed and perhaps forgotten until this ASAP urgent request. I suppose we’ll know more at the meeting, if the requester can hold off on her outrage and urgency until then.

Okay, so that’s pretty funny. Let me make a few observations.

  1. Always know what the hard deadline is. The questions, “What is driving this deadline? A trade show? A publication date?” should always be asked.
  2. ASAP is not an appropriate answer. That’s the “pants on fire” answer. It assigns the highest priority to a project that may or may not require such urgent attention. “Her boss’s boss” is really not an appropriate whip either.
  3. When people are offering their help, and you have a meeting set to go over the project, lofting additional hand grenades into the conversation is not helpful. “I still do not think this is the answer.”
  4. When you have a meeting set there is little need to escalate the discussion via email threads.

INCIDENT #2

In general admin-type people are really awesome corporate citizens. Occasionally they want to push their agenda a bit hard before they understand the issues.

At 10:30 this morning, I got an email from a team member asking me to take a look at her queue of projects in the system. She complained in the initial email that “some were quite old.” I had not seen her queue before. I responded immediately.

ME: Sure. Let me look at the list and see which ones I might need additional information on. I’ll get back to you shortly.

At 1:30 she wrote, “My requests keep falling through the cracks.” I had already responded favorably and was looking at her tickets. So I responded again, with an affirmative. I was “on it.”

At 1:42 I get an email from a tech person in the IT/DEV department asking if one of my colleagues or I would be the person responsible to handle her requests. Before I was able to respond…

At 1:50 she wrote to my supervisor (I suppose she didn’t like my “on it” response.) “Can you call me as soon as possible please. I don’t seem to be getting anywhere with this.” At least she cc’d me on the email.

At 1:51 I got another email from the IT/DEV group saying she’d sent my team member a note earlier this week that was “not answered.”

At this point I threw up my hands. Rather than respond to any of the emails. I needed to speak with my supervisor and give him a heads up on what was blowing up, but had no business blowing up.

Of the 5 issues in the queue, 3 were simple URL/Link changes. And while I can’t make them, I assigned the appropriately and they will be handled in the order they were received.

Issue #4 was the one she had written my supervisor about earlier in the week. Today is Wednesday. It is a request that cannot be completed without additional information from the requester, the woman having the conniption. We need a new meeting to define the project and scope. At that meeting I intend to ask, “So what’s driving this deadline?”

Issue #5 was put in last week and my supervisor and I met with her to go over her request. We are in process with providing her with a project plan.

When you ask for a request please consider how you frame the urgency. If the answer to every request is “ASAP, my boss and the president of the free world is waiting on it” then the Indians have no way to sort through the list and decide what to start on. When you don’t have an answer to that question, but you also don’t have your content ready, please have a tiny bit of patience. When someone offers their support but you don’t like their answer… Well, think about how you respond.

“I still do not think this is the answer,” sorta cuts off the conversation. And if the meeting is in an hour with all parties involved, perhaps that wasn’t necessary at all.

It will be interesting to see how the planning meeting goes, 15 minutes from now. My supervisor and I have chatted and laughed at my first incident. “Somebody got mad at you, and it’s not your fault. Welcome to our world.”

Urgency may not be the answer.

When I was inside at Dell my manager once calmed me down on an urgent issue that was burning up some email threads. She asked me.

“Is this your project?”

“No.”

“Who asked you to do this?”

“The project lead.”

“This is not your project. I’m going into a meeting. If it’s not my urgency, it’s probably not yours. Since I’m the one who manages your time and work.”

BOTTOM LINE: Your Urgency May Not Be Mine.

John McElhenney
@jmacofearth (also seen on Google+: jmacofearth)

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