SMBs

Too many chiefs: Fielding multiple requests from above

Jeff Dray has experienced the problem of having too many "bosses" making calls upon his time at once. How do you handle multiple requests from above -- especially when the tasks compete against one another?

There is an old and politically incorrect expression used in British industry when referring to top-heavy management which starts with ‘too many chiefs."  Recently I have been suffering from this condition. I have a boss who supports me and on the whole leaves me to get on with my job. Sadly there are other people who feel that they have a call on my time and efforts, and the simple truth is that I cannot be in two places at once.

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It all came to a head when I got a call from one of the account managers who said that he had promised a customer that I would attend to give them support. He had failed to check with me first, and I was unable to comply with his request as I had already promised to go to another customer about 60 miles away. In fact, I didn't have a free slot in my diary for several days, and this left the account manager with egg on his face. I felt justified in explaining that he should have checked with me before making a promise to a customer. I felt that my first promise was the one I was morally bound to and went ahead with that call.

I wanted to know what he wanted me to do for the customer; it seemed that they had a new piece of equipment and were not feeling comfortable with its operation. As the operating side of the equipment was an in-house application that I had never seen,  I did not feel comfortable in giving training on it and asked to speak to their in-house support guy to see what I could contribute to their setup. To be asked to go in blind and effectively train people was a bridge too far for me.

It is important to know where your chain of command runs. When people from other departments start to make calls on your time, it is time to lay down the law. I help people where I can, but I have to prioritize my main workflow before I do favors for others. It is important to get along with members of other departments, but they need to understand the pressures we face and tailor their requests accordingly. I suppose it is a matter of respect and valuing colleagues. If my colleagues feel that I am there only to respond to their requests and there is no need to consult me, then I feel as though the respect is not there. When respect fails on one side, it is inevitable that it will fail on the other. That way lies trouble.

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