The boss is a bona-fide procrastinator who seems spurred into action only by an imminent deadline, or the end of the week. When 3:00 on Friday afternoon rolls around, he is suddenly inspired to churn his way through the paperwork before the weekend arrives. And, of course, the fallout from his frenzy of activity lands on his assistant’s desk just minutes before closing time – often accompanied by urgent requests that things go out before the weekend. As a result she ends up staying late on Fridays to handle these last minute tasks.
To say the assistant is growing tired of the game is an understatement. Her frustration level is high, but apparently not quite as high as her level of fearfulness.
We spoke about possible solutions to the issue. Clearing her own desk to handle the anticipated Friday flood. Checking with the boss about upcoming work earlier in the week. Offering to take the initiative on a number of tasks that are repeatedly left too late. Working with the boss to create intermediate milestone/deadlines that would spread the work throughout the week. Discussing the impact of his behavior on her end-of-week work experience.
In the end, the assistant was reluctant to do anything more than clear her desk in anticipation of the flood. She believed she could never raise these other issues with her boss, because that would be too much like criticizing him and telling him that he really didn’t know how to do his job. A prospect that she deemed far too scary, far too risky.
ACTION: Risk assessment is an interesting thing. Yes, there may be a risk in speaking up or pushing back. There may also be a reward – having others understand the impact of their behavior and work with you to make a change.
What is not always understood is that there is most certainly a risk in not speaking up. Suffering in silence pretty much guarantees that the assistant will continue to handle the Friday floods – fuming and stewing her way into the weekend. In the meantime, resentment and bitterness grow, and the relationship becomes ever more strained week by week.
Sadly, we tend to get more of what we put up with. Try not to let fearfulness lock you into a situation for which there are other choices and other solutions.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare, it is because we do not dare that they are difficult.” – Seneca
RESOURCE OF THE WEEK: If you’re interested in why and how people do or don’t speak up, it’s worth your while to dip into this ‘Do I Dare Say Something?’ article from the Harvard Business School publication, Working Knowledge: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/5261.html .
The material is presented in a Q&A discussion between author, Sarah Jane Gilbert, and Harvard researcher, Amy Edmondson. Here’s an example of just one interesting observation about two necessary conditions or beliefs for an employee to speak up to someone in authority: “…first, the belief that one is not putting oneself at significant risk of personal harm (e.g., embarrassment, loss of material resources) and second, the belief that one is not wasting one’s time in speaking up. In short, voice must be seen as both safe and worthwhile.
READERS WRITE: In response to last week’s Pause message on ‘All or Nothing’, LH writes: “So true! The basic steps you have identified will promote individual acceptance of individual and joint accountability and responsibility.”