One of the common threads I see with many business owners and executives is a desire to be constantly accessible to their clients and to people who call them. They feel if they are always available, it shows others that they put the customer first and are working hard.
However, this creates a dilemma. If they are constantly available, how can the business leader truly get any work done? The business leader, when constantly interrupted by new phone calls and by people stopping in their place of work, can never focus for any extended period. They find themselves in a constant mode of multitasking.
Very often, these same business leaders make demands of their employees, expecting immediate responses to their needs. This perpetuates a lack of productivity within the organization by causing all employees to operate in a constant switchtasking mode. These businesses operate on a culture of now.
The answer lies not in the now, but in the when. For example, set a clear expectation of when they can expect a return call when they reach your voice mail. People are typically very forgiving of not receiving immediate attention now, but only if there’s a clear expectation of when they are going to receive a call back.
One of the most important changes that my clients make is shifting to a culture of when, rather than a culture of now. A culture of when allows leaders to say, “I will take care of everything, I will not leave anything undone, but I will not switchtask and shortchange quality of work nor the attention I give to human beings.”
Consider just a few examples of how to create a culture of when:
o A manager asks her assistant to make fifty copies of a document. She gives him a clear expectation that he needs to deliver these copies back by 10:00 am the next day.
o A business coach creates a voice mail message encouraging people to leave their message. However, he also creates an expectation that he will return their calls within 2 hours, or if the call was made after 5:00 pm, the next business morning.
o A sales executive always makes sure that she gets a date and time to follow-up with a valued prospect. She does this by asking that prospect when he wishes her to make a follow-up phone call. If possible, she sets a mutual appointment for the phone call.
o In a managers meeting, each member of the team commits to accomplishing their personal tasks by a specific date. The CEO writes these dates down and follows-up with each individual at the specified time.
o A bookkeeper establishes a recurring appointment with himself to pay the current bills every Friday at 3:00 pm.
o A business owner sets a daily schedule of only checking her email twice per day: once at 9:00 am and again at 4:00 pm.
The culture of when is a culture of consistency and expectations. It requires you to follow through on the agreements you make. It means expecting others to keep to those agreements. The culture of when can only survive when someone has strong personal systems.
When business leaders begin making changes by creating a personal culture of when, the results will begin to reflect through the rest of the business.
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