March 16, 2009

The Virus of Urgency

My friend Lynn has helped me to understand that we need to manage to the expectations of our customers.

Too often, internal customers say that they need to have something completed today, if not five minutes ago. The fact that your customers are asking for something to be completed now is an indication that there is a much larger problem to tackle. The reason that your customers are asking for things with such immediacy is because their needs have been neglected in the past. Your customers feel that the only way to get what they really need is to create a false sense of urgency. In other words, what the customer is really saying is, "I am going to tell you that I need something today to make my request seem urgent, because if I don't, you aren't going to work on it for me." This behavior has been nurtured over time, and it has become a part of the culture. Like a virus, it has even spread into the way that we work and interact with each other.

The results of this include the following:
  1. You are reactive, not proactive. - Rather than responding to issues that are actual emergencies, everything is treated as an emergency. This prevents your team from doing the work that is actually of real value and importance to your organization.
  2. Your customers find other ways to solve problems. - Sure, we want people to innovate and come up with out of this world ideas, but they should be focused on how they can solve the problems and answer the questions that are unique to what they do, not how they can work around a group that is unresponsive. If they don't need you, then why are you even there at all?
  3. You fail to grow, because you fail to learn. - When you are determining the work that you will commit to, based on your own needs, you fail to meet the needs of your organization. This is a selfish way to approach business. It is your primary responsibility to enable your customers to be as successful as they possibly can be. By focusing your efforts on the projects that you perceive will return the greatest value to you, you fail to enable your customers. There is a lot that we can learn from those that we serve. If we are not serving, we are not really learning.
Clearly, we have a lot of work to do when it comes to changing the cultural mindset that has grown in so many of our organizations. The first step is identifying the problem. Then we can start to come up with solutions.

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