One of my twitter followers (@Ted Coine) posted this thought on today: It takes a stunted imagination to think your people will maintain a constant sense of urgency.
Interesting thought, isn't it? It resonated with me because one of my favorite sayings is, If everything is important, then nothing is important.
Ok, so, does that mean we actually have work that is unimportant? Nope, because all work has some importance (and value) or it shouldn't be done. These days, we do not have time for "busy work"; with downsizing, shrinking staff sizes, increases in technology (thus driving a need for training), there is more than enough for a person to do. It is possible that a workflow analysis may find ways to make the overall work more efficient (you can even do this with your time - taking a critical but non judgmental view of your day - you might be surprised how much time the phone or email actually take up). However, for many workers, it is not that they have busy work to do, but they have so much work to do which has been made a high priority. Compounding on that, is work that is moved to a high priority without any plan for the other high priority items on the ol' todo list.
As a manager/supervisor/leader, a major responsibility is setting priorities to meet the needs of the organization and communicating those priorities to staff, which involves a considerable amount of planning. Planning and being proactive means that there is less reactive and less crisis management. (Planning is not going to eliminate crisis management, but it can reduce it greatly). Crisis management feeds into the sense of urgency and forces work to the top of the list quickly. A continuous crisis management approach occurs when a manager operates from one crisis to another without ever putting a plan in place ('putting out fires" is a common catchphrase).
This sense that all of the work is urgent or every day is a new crisis, then makes none of the work important. Why? Because it is not humanly sustainable for long periods of time, even with coffee (or cigarettes). Ever see a runner after a marathon? Or see someone after surviving a harrowing situation, such as personal crime or a car accident? They may babble somewhat nonsensically, feel faint, or actually go into shock -- in addition to long term affects PTS (Post Traumatic Stress). It is the body's way of dealing of with trauma. Get through the situation (fight or flight - Adrenaline) then when "safe" - rest, recover, heal, deal. In terms of work, that may mean workers "check out", get "burned out", lose interest, lose focus,make mistakes, become sick more often (real or faked), get less work done, morale suffers, and in a nutshell, they become less stellar.
Planning and communication are certainly not going to address every workplace or employee situation (although you should have a plan for that, too!) but when you see systematic burnout, low morale,
.and good employees who are struggling, it is a sign... and honestly, these days, we need stellar. For those of you who supervise/manage/lead, do you plan? Do you communicate that plan?