In a recent meeting at a client’s office, a team of exhausted managers pled with their executive leaders to slow — or even stop — the onslaught of email so they could regain control and get caught up. For them, the rapid pace in their workplace had reached such a cadence they felt the only answer was to put a halt on technology.
The request for a reprieve is something we hear a lot while working with fast-growing and successful clients. People continue to believe that once the hectic pace of a current project or assignment ends, they will catch their breath and have opportunity to get on with other business, such as longer-term strategy. A variation on the theme is to point a finger at others for labeling everything as urgent, changing priorities, and requesting impossible outcomes.
Here’s the reality. The pace of work is not slowing down. New projects no longer come in waves, but constantly. For most, business is no longer cyclical. There is no summer break or even a slowdown during major holidays.
For our group of exhausted managers, I say, it’s not really about email. Email overload is a symptom of something larger. Something system-wide. If we can get to the root cause, we have a better chance of realizing long-term gain versus relieving short-term pain.
The truth is, in many workplaces, leaders have to stop thinking about how to slow the quickening pace and, instead, learn how to adapt to and thrive within it. Unlike those individuals who wanted e-mail to go away, the better answer lies in finding new and engaging ways of doing business that bring energy and focus within the “new normal.”
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
Collaborate More: We have to learn to work better as partners, peers and teams. We even need to move beyond cross-functional expertise to a “one-team” mindset. When we balance self-interest with the best interests of others, we create the opportunity for synergy between conflicting ideas. This synergy produces innovative solutions that serve the needs of all parties. Without collaboration the possibilities for breakthrough solutions are limited.
Wear Your “Systems Hat”: Problems cannot be solved by the same thinking that created them. Focus your energy on identifying new approaches that solve multiple problems at once; that tackle the root cause, rather than symptoms as they arise. Without a system perspective, we experience poor alignment across functions. Couple this perspective with collaboration to evolve the organization’s systems and produce envisioned results.
Build Adaptive Capacity: The solution we applied to a problem historically, may not work the second time around. Why? Mostly likely, the problem has changed. In this volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous (VUCA) world, not much stays the same for very long. Adaptive capacity is our ability to cope with, and perhaps even benefit from, the changing requirements within our organization. Breakthrough solutions require us to shift our way of thinking beyond the current paradigm and embrace transformation.
So, how long does it take to adapt to this new normal? For some, it’s a simple shift in mindset. For others, it will take longer as they review processes, evaluate and enhance skillsets, and perhaps even engage in some coaching and mentoring.
Either way, you can start by recognizing the rapid pace of change is here to stay.
Jennifer Collins, CEC, PCC
HCA, President & Managing Partner