The current economic environment has changed the way businesses function and distribute workloads. Many workers find themselves reporting to multiple bosses and carrying workloads that fluctuate between several supervisors. Administrative support staff find themselves supporting entire teams or departments rather than just the one person or handful of people they previously supported. Juggling the competing demands of multiple bosses has become business as usual for many workers. The challenge is larger than just the growing workload, it’s the demand for new skills. Prioritization skills, project management skills, and negotiation and communication skills are needed now more than ever before.
These challenges will expand in the next few months as businesses try to stay profitable in an uncertain environment. Without a clear path to corporate profit there is little hope for overworked managers and administrative support staff who hope to see new hires come onboard to help with heavy workloads. Profit is not on the near horizon for most businesses. Chief Economist Dennis Jacobe at Gallup warned of tough times in the coming months in his report, “Gallup Finds U.S. Unemployment at 10.0% in Mid-October.” Summing up the research, Jacobe writes, “Regardless, Gallup’s employment data continue to reveal little good news for consumer spending, retailers, or the unemployed as the holidays approach.”
Read Jacobe’s article here.
If jugging heavy workloads for multiple bosses is the new normal, how can workers not only cope but survive and thrive in a workplace riddled with sometimes unrealistic expectations?
Five Ideas for Making Multiple Bosses Happy
1. Develop a System for Prioritizing
Relying on deadline dates isn’t always the best indicator of what to work on. For example, a project that earns the organization $50,000 may be due a day or two before the project that earns $500,000. If we’re going to be late on one, or be forced to take shortcuts, we may consider sacrificing the least profitable project. Dependent upon the type of work we do and the demands of our office or business, we need to develop a clear system for prioritizing projects. Your office may require that projects for high value customers or clients get priority treatment, or projects may be prioritized by financial value to your organization. Administrative support staff may find that work is prioritized based upon who the work is done for and that may not be the best system. There are many measurements, the secret is to agree upon the most effective measurement and stick to it.
For those who are overwhelmed when prioritizing projects, a helpful tool is the “Priority Indicator” included in the book How to Make the Most of Your Workday by Peg Pickering. The tool uses a simple mathematical approach to establishing priorities. It forces choices between just two options at a time, then calculates the scores and determines priorities. You can learn about the priority indicator here.
The priority indicator will be discussed in an upcoming webinar for administrative professionals, Managing Chaos: Dynamic Project Management Skills for Top Assistants on November 16, 2010. More information is available here.
2. Post Your Projects
Bosses, or people who think they’re our boss, should be aware of the workload we carry. It’s helpful to post our pending projects for them. Posting your projects can be as simple as sending a daily or weekly email list with your projects listed by priority, or displaying them on a whiteboard over your desk. You can list your pending projects in a shared document in Outlook or a database program and update the list daily. Those waiting for projects from you can access the document, see where their project is listed and how it fits within the priority list. Posting your project list not only keeps you organized and focused, it keeps everyone informed and eliminates interruptions. They don’t have to ask for updates; it’s posted. It also allows them to discuss with each other the value of their projects. If someone believes their project should be moved to a higher priority, they can discuss it and exchange places with someone else’s project higher on the list. In essence, they work out the priority status of their projects while you focus on your workload.
3. Crank Up Your Creativity Quotient
When the workload feels unreasonable it’s time to get creative. We can’t conduct business the way we’ve done it in the past and stay competitive in today’s environment. And, we can’t manage our workflow the way we’ve always done it. It’s time to get creative and discover new ways to streamline and consolidate our work. Is someone else in the office doing the same type of work you’re doing? Can it be combined, shared, or split? Is new technology available that will cut time or labor from your project? Do you have untapped talents and skills in your repertoire that you can utilize now?
Embrace your ability to flex and adapt to solve problems. Mimic the old role of television character Angus MacGyver, the resourceful secret agent played by Richard Dean Anderson. Creative and intelligent, MacGyver was able to solve just about any problem with minimal resources and his trusted Swiss Army knife.
4. Learn to Negotiate Deadlines and Project Parameters
Negotiation skills are the lifesaver of the overworked. Finding a way to buy more time while still keeping the customer happy can reduce your stress. Finding agreement on a time-saving change to the project that puts you back on schedule and still keeps the client happy can save your career. Negotiations should always focus on finding mutually beneficial solutions. Focus on what can work for both parties.
If you’re running behind schedule, ask if there’s any wiggle room with the timeline. If you don’t ask you’ll never know. Also, look for “fluff” that can be eliminated. If something within the project isn’t critical get rid of it. If it isn’t critical to have it now, but it could be delivered later without a problem, reschedule that portion of the project. Another option is simply to get more help. Be specific when you ask for help. If you have a good reputation as reliable and dependable, offer to help someone else later on a project in exchange for assistance now. And, remember, in the worst case scenario you can ask yourself, “If my career depended on getting this project done on time, what would I do?”
5. Brush Up On Your Communication Skills
Assertive and diplomatic communication skills are essential to keeping everyone happy and productive in the workplace. Often, the way we phrase a request makes all the difference in the world. And, the way we say “no” to a request makes a difference, too.Here is an excerpt from “The Working Woman’s Rant & Rave Guidebook” with communications skill advice. In addition, there are numerous books and workshops available to help you brush up on your communication skills.
Here are three more resources for tips on diplomatic and assertive communication during difficult situations:
Tips for Negotiating with Difficult People
Employ the Power of Persuasion
How Do You Talk About Touchy Subjects at Work?
Gallup Management Journal
Gina Maddox is a professional speaker and the author of “The Working Woman’s Rant & Rave Guidebook (Orange Cat Press, 2010).
How to Make the Most of Your Workday by Peg Pickering (CareerPress)
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