The term that best defines this week is: Information Overload! Earthquakes, Tsunami’s, Nuclear leaks in Japan, Fault lines under US Nuclear reactors, New war in Libya, Ongoing war in Afghanistan, Stock market roller coaster, Economy getting better/worse, Growth of the Deficit, Godzilla advancing on Tokyo, President of Yemen giving up power… uh, Godzilla? OK, maybe not Godzilla. At least not this week! There’s just too much news to process. In the old days, this information was delivered in the morning paper or on the evening news. Now it’s 24×7 from your favorite news site, magnified through Blogs, Facebook and Twitter. A few weeks ago Newsweek’s cover story was, “BrainFreeze”, which explains how we all shut down when we have too much information, or too many decisions to make. Sound familiar?
But we’re not just being bombarded with information about the larger world, as managers we have to deal with all the information from the firms we work for. A lot of the news we’re hearing is about the economy, or may affect the recovery. Except for COO’s, most operational managers don’t need to worry about detailed economic forecasts. However, we live in unusual times. The economy collapsed, and is coming back. Clearly work levels are rising, and there are many more signs of improvement. Most of the managers I’ve spoken to have seen signs of growth, or have been given new responsibilities, but they have also been told to hold back on new head count, or that they simply will not get more head count. Which is pretty typical when we hit the upswing in an economic cycle. First we don’t act fast enough when the economy drops, then we continue to reduce (or freeze) staff for too long, and then we hold off on new hires until we start to see serious cracks in our services. Clearly, none of us want to see our services damaged; then again, if everyone else is in a hiring freeze no one wants to be the first to ask for an exception. Normally, we would look upward in our management structure for some signs, for some insight on when we might see some change in policy. Unfortunately, Brainfreeze doesn’t just apply to line managers; it affects everyone right up to the C-Suite.
How do we overcome Brainfreeze? My best advice is to create focus. It looks like we are at a turning point; new staff may be needed, or after a couple of years without raises or bonuses, replacement staff may be required when existing staff departs for new jobs. You could be called upon to build your department very quickly. Consider what you think will be the right trigger points: Utilization exceeding “X”%, number of missed deadlines rising by “Y”%, queue of projects exceeding “Z” weeks, whatever makes sense to you. Then, start talking to the people who can authorize headcount, or can at least carry your request to the next management level. Give a monthly update to your management on when you think you will hit the cracking point. It doesn’t mean that you will get what you want, when you want it, but the better you can articulate your needs, the better you can build support for your position. If you are confronted by authorizers in the grip of Brainfreeze, continuous enforcement of your position makes sure that no one is surprised. You can reduce resistance by increasing familiarity. If you have authorizers that actively oppose your arguments for new staff, it’s better to know that sooner rather than later. This allows you to rethink and reshape your arguments until they are accepted.
When the economy shifts, corporate hiring policy is usually behind the economic curve. But if you start thinking through your arguments, and aligning those arguments with the people who can approve your request, you can shorten the time gap between when you need something and when it gets approved. And that’s my Niccolls worth for today!