DIY

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.

15 comments
jceccanese
jceccanese

OK, so what is the point to this whole article? We know that there is always too many chiefs and never enough indians, but???....

Philip Meyer
Philip Meyer

I have to agree with this. I am also hassled countless times from all directions and sometimes it is quite a problem to handle the situation diplomaticly enough to keep everyone happy.

blarman
blarman

As the Director of IT in a 2-man IT department, I handle a lot of programming, troubleshooting and basic grunt work for all levels of our business. I frequently have questions coming from line-level people in addition to the president asking for everything from PC upgrades to troubleshooting to application enhancements. I have found that they only way I can manage all of this is to keep a task/priority list and tell the person when they call what other tasks are already on my plate that might take priority over theirs. If it is the company president, he has the option to say "this problem is more important than X, but not Y". They also take on the responsibility of notifying whomever got bumped by their request of the delay. This absolves me from any conflict and keeps everything out in the open so that everyone knows what is going on. And it works well.

The Scummy One
The Scummy One

Not long ago, a request came in to see if a manager (high level) could get some support. During this time I was very busy, so I drafted a message stating a few things to check, and asked for the exact error code. Another manager (in my management chain) decided I had gone too far, asking what the error was and all, and trying to get this manager to get more info to me. Stated in the email could be read as 'if you cant do it, I can find someone else' and 'When a high level manager has an issue, drop everything you are doing to handhold them'. Unfortunately, it is not always that easy -- especially withought knowing the severity of the problem, and already having a full plate (such as trying to recover data from a failed drive -- not backed up in over 5 yrs). Then my manger came to me and asked what I was working on, and why I couldnt handhold this person. I stated that I needed to know the severity of the error, to determine if I needed to overnight a loaner. And I sent the email that I had sent which asked for more info AND stated that it would help me to determine the problem for a much quicker resolution. Luckily afterwards, my manager agreed with my assessment, and didnt fin it out of line, nor not being helpful. The saddest part though, was that even after I ended up overnighting a loaner, the error didnt stop this person from using the system, and all of the problems 'vanished' once I agreed to setup a brand new system (early). Hmmmm Aside from that, it is not just management that tries to tie in my time. I have lots of people, even outside of the department that I support, which come to me, either directly or someone in the dept that they talked to recommended me. Often, this is an emergency and I may get a call. However, I have had to turn down these requests, but if I have time I try to make it (usually do).

giorgialibegashvili
giorgialibegashvili

I think you should start to think of developing Service catalog in IT signed by management, where all services/conditions will explained and no one will be able to make pressure on you.

EBradford
EBradford

Even in a situation that your company has committed (via the account manager) to deliver something of which can not comply the schedule, you duty is to attempt to meet the goals of the company. Jeff had two appointments at the same time, and he can not make both. The only solution is to call the newest appointee, and playing dumb, then ask to set an appointment. When they say "today at 3:00," appologize politely stating that the next available opening is in three days (or whatever). Then, handle the multiple bosses issue behind the scenes, away from customer's eyes and ears. Explain the situation to your boss, and ask him to make it clear to other account managers or departmental managers that while they can guarantee your company will provide them with excellent service, that they should not commit to any time period or specific actions without permission of your manager. The key is that a company needs to make commitments that it can keep and then keep them. The company will be ill served by not keeping the commitments is makes to customers. All employees need to work together to (incl. acct. mgrs.) to make a company successful.

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

I've been in the same situation myself in the past. As is the case in your example, I have been forced to leave egg on the face of a department manager because of other commitments. Fortunately, in my current job, the chain of command is clearly defined and I don't hesitate to say "You'll need to clear that with my supervisor" when I'm presented with a task by somebody from another department.

MHachey
MHachey

The main points of the article were about respecting and valuing your work colleagues. Specifically, it says that it is not proper to make commitment on behalf of others without first asking the person concerned whether they can honor the specific engagement you propose. It is not good business practice to set people up to fail. If you put your colleagues in a catch 22 by double-booking them, or by not giving them time to prepare, or asking them to do the impossible it is not fair or reasonable. Isn?t it hard enough to find competent and devoted employees that work hard as it is? How much time and money should we spend on avoidable crises?

Gh0stMaker
Gh0stMaker

If the account manager tells customers how much time it will take to fix network environments this can get very dicey for the technical professional; especially when quotes and projects are looked at with no room for error.

vulturex
vulturex

Good points But I'm going to also say that the account manager needs to be reprimanded for failing to check available resources against a service request. This probably wouldn't be the first time this has happened at this company, and too often in the field service industry managers in their arrogance take their subordinates or other manager's subordinates as expendable infinite resources . This Account manager clearly didn't check somebody's outlook calendar and probably spends too much time behind a desk to realize the business situation on the ground. At other companies I've worked at , this too was a problem and was ultimately solved by putting in a system of checks and balances to prevent any one manager of any sort to over reach their bounds. In this case, I would disagree and say the Account manager should take responsibility to resolve the situation as he/she is the one who created it. After all the Account manager is often paid to interact with the customer more so than any field tech whos paid usually allot less in comparison and is specialized in the actual work, not the advanced customer relations aspects. The Tech in my managerial opinion made the correct choice by tending to his first obligation .

The Admiral
The Admiral

You are getting paid to service the people in your particular department or string. If you fail to do your job for what you are responsible - that will reflect in your bonus. You won't get a bonus if you do your job for everyone else.

SF_Pat
SF_Pat

I have enjoyed your Help desk stories. Did you ever consider that the manager may hold a high opinion of you and that is why he boasted that you or your department can handle the issue. You could say to the client that your are honored by the manager's referial but that you are currently booked (not surprising since you are so good) and you will need a little time to prep for the assignment. Then ask the client if they want to wait for you or take their chances with the queue.

GSG
GSG

a bonus? I've never seen this thing of which you speak. Seriously though, I've fallen into the trap of trying to satisfy my "customers". These are people in other departments who make requests that they feel can be done in a couple of minutes, but in reality, I would classify as a project taking many hours, days, or weeks. In the past, I've always tried to accomodate them as quickly as possible, but lately, with having the total number of FTE's reduced while doubling our workload, we've had to create a pending project list, where all projects have to be approved and prioritized by the manager. This leaves us with a more clearly defined chain of command.

Gh0stMaker
Gh0stMaker

No doubt where are those elusive positions... hehe Without clearly defined management structures the bonus is most likely based on 'kiss up'

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