Point Lookout: a free weekly publication of Chaco Canyon Consulting
Volume 6, Issue 50;   December 13, 2006: Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations

Managing Pressure: Communications and Expectations

by

Pressed repeatedly for "status" reports, you might guess that they don't want status — they want progress. Things can get so nutty that responding to the status requests gets in the way of doing the job. How does this happen and what can you do about it? Here's Part I of a little catalog of tactics and strategies for dealing with pressure.
The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo

The 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. Photo courtesy U.S. NASA.

Just as Les was about to answer Anna, his desk phone rang. He glanced at the caller ID, looked up at Anna, and said, "It's him again. Should I answer?" He knew what she would say.

"Yeah," she said. "He probably knows we're here."

Les picked up the handset. "Yeah," he said. Nobody used Hello for internal calls anymore.

Anna couldn't hear much, but she didn't need to. The caller was their boss, and he was probably asking for yet another briefing before the review the next afternoon. The conversation went on for a while, until Les looked up at Anna.

"Three PM OK with you?"

Anna nodded. Les said "OK" into the phone and put the handset back in its cradle. Hello was already gone, and Good-Bye was well on its way.

He turned to Anna. "That's lucky," he said sarcastically. "We're just so bored here sitting around doing nothing."

They both laughed, but it wasn't funny.

When projects falter,
demands for status
and explanations
escalate
When projects falter, demands for status and explanations escalate. Sometimes satisfying these requests interferes with the work, but at least we can understand why people worry. What's more puzzling is how this happens to projects that aren't in trouble.

Perceptions of an absence of progress usually drive such concerns. Here's Part I of a catalog of strategies for managing pressure by enhancing perceptions of progress. See "Managing Pressure: The Unexpected," Point Lookout for December 20, 2006, and "Managing Pressure: Milestones and Deliveries," Point Lookout for December 27, 2006, for more.

Choose names carefully
If a particular task encountered serious trouble in a previous project, re-using its name in a current project invites people to use their past experiences in assessing current risks.
Ironically, we often do better the second time around. Choose names that are relatively free of negative baggage.
When in trouble, don't talk — deliver
When there's little new to demonstrate, project leaders sometimes resort to words to convey a sense of progress. But during extended intervals between demonstrations of new capability, words interfere with perceptions of progress.
Because demonstrating new capability frequently does help, reschedule to provide something useful as soon as possible.
Short schedules help perceptions
Long schedules undermine perceptions of progress. This phenomenon appears to be psychological in origin, and it applies wherever customers have to wait for what they really want.
Schedule projects to complete as fast as possible. If necessary, decompose a large project into a sequence (or a partially parallel set) of smaller projects. The effectiveness of this approach might be one reason why agile methods are so popular, because they call for frequent deliveries of useful functionality.

Managing perceptions isn't just politics. Since pressure is usually counterproductive, these strategies can truly benefit your projects. I'll say more next time, but I'll pause here because I want to send this part to you as soon as possible. Go to top Top  Next issue: Managing Pressure: The Unexpected  Next Issue

303 Secrets of Workplace PoliticsIs every other day a tense, anxious, angry misery as you watch people around you, who couldn't even think their way through a game of Jacks, win at workplace politics and steal the credit and glory for just about everyone's best work including yours? Read 303 Secrets of Workplace Politics, filled with tips and techniques for succeeding in workplace politics. More info

Micromanagement is a common source of pressure. For insights on micromanagers and micromanaging, see "When Your Boss Is a Micromanager," Point Lookout for December 5, 2001; "There Are No Micromanagers," Point Lookout for January 7, 2004; "Are You Micromanaging Yourself?," Point Lookout for November 24, 2004; and "How to Tell If You Work for a Nanomanager," Point Lookout for March 7, 2007.

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Related articles

More articles on Workplace Politics:

President Harry S. Truman, and Gen. Douglas MacArthur, meeting at Wake Island, 14 October 1950The Perils of Political Praise
Political Praise is any public statement, praising (most often) an individual, and including a characterization of the individual or the individual's deeds, and which spins or distorts in such a way that it advances the praiser's own political agenda, possibly at the expense of the one praised.
The Boy Who Cried Wolf, illustrated by Milo Winter in a 1919 Aesop anthologyWhy Don't They Believe Me?
When we want people to believe us, and they don't, it just might be a result of our own actions or demeanor. How does this happen?
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What we fail to notice about any situation — and what we do notice that isn't really there — can be the difference between the outcomes we fear, the outcomes we seek, and the outcomes that exceed our dreams. How can we improve our ability to notice?
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Careful observation of workplace politics reveals an assortment of devious tactics that the ruthless use to gain advantage. Here are some of their techniques, with suggestions for effective responses.
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When project teams and their sponsors manage risk, they usually focus on those risks most closely associated with the tasks — content risks. Meanwhile, other risks — non-content risks — get less attention. Among these are risks related to the processes and politics by which the organization gets things done.

See also Workplace Politics, Conflict Management and Managing Your Boss for more related articles.

Forthcoming issues of Point Lookout

Mistletoe growing in abundance in the Wye Valley, WalesComing April 25: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VI
Narcissistic behavior at work distorts decisions, disrupts relationships, and generates toxic conflict. These consequences limit the ability of the organization to achieve its goals. In this part of our series we examine the effects of exploiting others for personal ends. Available here and by RSS on April 25.
A shark of unspecified speciesAnd on May 2: Narcissistic Behavior at Work: VII
Narcissistic behavior at work prevents trusting relationships from developing. It also disrupts existing relationships, and generates toxic conflict. One class of behaviors that's especially threatening to relationships is disregard for the feelings of others. In this part of our series we examine the effects of that disregard. Available here and by RSS on May 2.

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