One thing I think we can all agree on is that 2020 has been one type of crisis after another. From the pandemic, to social justice issues, to the fires raging now on the west coast, we have had to come to terms with emergencies and crises in our communities.
Often this same energy spills over to our work environment. Have you ever walked into someone’s office and seen a sign that says “A lack of planning on your part doesn’t create an emergency on mine.” If you think about it, what the author was really trying to communicate was this, “I won’t allow your dysfunction to become my dysfunction.” Although the sentiment isn’t necessarily a kind one, the message will almost certainly resonate if you have ever worked with others.
Now while the statement is technically true, in the workplace a lack of preparation on someone’s part can and often does become an “emergency” to everyone in the area. Have you ever wondered why this happens? If you think about it, the root of the word “emergency” is emergent—something new is coming to light. But what makes it urgent? Sometimes new is just new. Other times, something previously unseen appears and immediately feels like a threat.
Make no mistake, I have certainly fallen victim to this on more than one occasion. Sometimes, I see a situation that just screams, “Look at me now! I am on fire!! Fix me!!!” And my tendency is to involve others in the “fix” although I may not know what really needs to happen. While the truth is, I honestly love the adrenaline rush an emergency brings, real or perceived, when an organization is constantly reacting to challenges, it puts a real strain on both the system and the people that function within it.
If you find this has become a pattern for you, you may want to try something different. Here are a few things to consider:
- When an “emergency” occurs, job one is take a deep breath and get a sense of calm. No matter what happens next, a clear head will be significantly more beneficial.
- Ask yourself is this both emergent and urgent? Not all new things require us to immediately jump to action. Make sure the sense of urgency you feel is real.
- Ask your trusted “thought partners” for, well, their thoughts. Just because you have not seen this situation before, doesn’t mean it is truly unique and they can help you test to see if it is truly urgent.
- Plan your response carefully, and be ready to shift strategies if needed. Sometimes we get so busy reacting to an emergent situation, we don’t see the big picture. And, sometimes we get so fixed on a solution, we aren’t open to new strategies.
- Assess what really needs to get done, when and by whom. Determine what tasks actually have to happen, if an “all hands on deck” response is required, or if it’s something that can easily be handled by a small team. Remember that our sense of urgency and emotions spill onto and impact others, so do your best to right-size your response.
- Begin to move toward more proactive methods. One of my favorite tools to share is the “Eisenhower Matrix.” This grid, created by General Eisenhower encourages people to put their efforts into high value activities (which, coincidentally, do not involve chasing one’s tail).
- After responding to a true emergency, be sure and do a debrief afterwards and capture what you learned and determine what processes you can put in place to prevent a repeat. Acknowledge everyone’s contribution to getting you past the bump in the road.
While we can never plan for everything, we can become more aware of problematic patterns and make better choices, for ourselves, staff and organization. And, while we are at it, let’s order some new signage: Keep Calm and Carry On!