Complete Control – A Total Illusion

Last summer I was in conversation with a senior manager in a global company. He was stressed. The guy simply had too much work on and didn’t know what to do. I met him again a few weeks later and having taken the difficult decision to talk to his boss and tell her that he couldn’t cope, he seemed more relaxed. She had responded by helping to reprioritise things and importantly, together they had agreed to stop a couple of tasks. Of course the decision he took shouldn’t be difficult but we have a culture of generally trying to cope with things in the world of work (and this is exacerbated when the fear of losing your job is doing the rounds).

Two weeks ago over on our Facebook page there was a response to an earlier post I wrote titled Busy Sucks. The Facebook note read, “Hey Doug, I’m busy & not as productive as I’d like. But with 1200 job cuts I guess I’m going to be even busier. And even less productive. Thank heavens the Govt cuts aren’t going to affect front line services. Yay! [ironic cheer]”. To our contributor Nigel I say – hand back what’s not important, what doesn’t add value to the plan. Stay sane.

The words Complete Control written in Chinese
The words Complete Control written in Chinese

I was talking with a friend last week who had boldly decided to hand back a piece of work to the business. This difficult decision meant my friend can now concentrate on doing a manageable bunch of stuff well, rather than trying to do too much. I applaud this.

HR has an important role to play in helping people to manage work volumes, particularly in the public sector where there is such pressure to cut staff without cutting front line services (as Nigel highlighted above). Worryingly, in the recent experience of TheHRD and other commentators on his blog, the reputation for managing this critical balance is not good.

We can only control so much – very often far less than we believe. And I don’t think that trying to control and keep hold of stuff, or taking on too much stuff is the way to a purposeful, flowful workstyle, do you?

I’d be interested to hear from you if you have experiences of people having this rebalancing conversation successfully or otherwise?

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

2 thoughts on “Complete Control – A Total Illusion”

  1. Over the last couple of years I worked with supervisors and managers suffering from what we called internally “the full plate syndrome”. Working for a global Co everything was priority, globally + locally, all the time, and as a result the levels or stress (at work and home) were everywhere.

    In talking to these individuals globally, mostly during leadership workshops where ironically “Prioritisation, Delegation and Letting Go” were topics covered, I concluded that that “taking on more and more work” was due to:

    – Company Culture: We’re a nice company, we never say No!
    – Company Performance: We’re a high performing company – we deliver results!
    – Macho attitude: If I say No it will be seen as a sign of weakness!
    – Ignorance: I perform better under stress!
    – Arrogance: I want to prove to my boss/the business I can do it! or, I am a go getter and I’ll step on whoever’s toes to get it!
    – Fear: there’s a re-org on it’s way and I could go so pretend to be busy!
    – Control/Power: control freaks who want a finger in every pie…

    Whilst coaching individuals and working with teams, I noticed they had no problem going to their boss/business and saying ” I can’t cope, help me prioritise”. The underlying issues were:

    The conflicting message from the top.Focus on doing the right things, etc…yet everything is priority, we want, we expect, you must. Ie: disconnect between the different layers of leadership.

    Admitting they couldn’t cope, and once done that, skill in articulating/explaining why and coming up with a plan. ie, by prioritising I can focus on what’s really important, on what will add value and make a difference.

    One particular intervention I facilitated is memorable because the team realised they were swamped, there was change ahead and they had to do something about it before all the rats sank with the ship.
    I was asked by an HR Mgr to worth with the team for a couple of hours and help them prioritise their work whilst delivering the HR Biz Plan and meet the business needs.
    Not an easy task when some people wanted to say yes to everything (very HR), others didn’t want to admit they couldn’t cope, and some business leaders were notorious for “not liking HR”.
    They had to challenging each other as well as business leaders, step back from the plan and looking ahead objectively to future. They didn’t have to say NO – just focus on the key things, that added value and helped their team/business prepare for the future.
    It helped the team stay focussed, being able to cope and also set a clear expectation with business leaders as to what they could expect and the value it would add.
    Let’s call it POP=P: Preparation+Objectivity+Planning = Productivity! Easy to remember!

    Despite all that, the Titanic still sank…no illusion!

  2. MrAirmiles what can I say…I am very grateful to you for this great tale you have told. I particularly like the list of reasons why folk take on more crap, oops sorry I mean work. It’s very kind of you to pop (he he) by and tell your tale – thanks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *