Putting out fires: Managers who “want it now” or “want it yesterday” are managing from a deficit

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Have you ever had a manager who has a last minute request, “I need this now!”  The more extreme version of this is, “I need this yesterday.”  Usually, this is a new last-minute request, and this can be very disruptive and annoying to employees, and a sure sign that the manager is “managing from a deficit.”

Now, I’m not talking about jobs where there is a last-minute nature to the job.  A firefighter’s job, is, by definition, a “last-minute” kind of job.  The firefighter’s boss will no doubt say, “We need to do this right away!”  But there is a lot of preparation that firefighters engage in – with the aid and coordination of their bosses — that goes into meeting the demands of that “last minute” request known as a fire.

I’m talking about a boss who interrupts your job to request something new, and it is needed soon.  And this request is made with urgency, perhaps with some yelling involved.  These are requests that are metaphoric fires, not actual fires.

So if you are someone on a team that seems to have a lot of “fires”, then read on.

Let’s take a look at some of the sources of these last minute requests (a.k.a., fires):

1.     Is the request primarily to assure the manager looks better to his manager?

A common source of this kind of last minute request is to provide assistance to the manager in helping him report up to his manager what is going on, most likely the request of the manager above her.  So, ironically, the request keeps rolling downhill.  If you have an organization with more than three levels, you have at least three “sources” for needs for updates.  If the upper management team does this consistently, such last-minute requests can start to appear to be the norm.  For example, let’s say that the upper management decides to schedule an “all team meeting” and wants all of managers in the group need to present to the team.  And it’s going to happen next week.  Last minute request spawned!

So the team needs to stop what they are doing and instead create a report on what they are doing.   When this happens, the manager is asking the team to take the “hit” and not the manager.  The manager should have the option to say to his manager, “This would disrupt my team in achieving its goals, which have already been prioritized” and provide the level of reporting already agreed upon.  The request can be made to add it to future reports, as part of the core team deliverables.  The manager can choose to make an exception and start the “metaphorical” fire, but should also note this as an opportunity to renegotiate what reporting –and the timing of it– the upper management needs.  Read more