Tuesday, December 14, 2010

You Can’t Just Nag People. It’s Rude. Also, Everyone Has Expectations, They Just Don't Always Tell You.

But it is technically your job to nag people, if you are a manager (or a lead, etc.). Just sayin'.

I’m not advocating a paranoid world in which people are completely unreliable and projects never get done due to stupidity or maliciousness (although I'm certain the world seems that way sometimes). I’m just asking to take a look at the fact that because the word “manager” is somewhere involved with you, your job is to make sure stuff gets done, and you will likely be held accountable for that expectation that others have of you.

While people make mistakes and forget things or prioritize them lower than other things, or spill coffee all over themselves ten seconds after saying yes to you and what they promised flees their mind as the searing pain tears through their clothing, its not a really good idea to let people feel like they’re in need of a constant nag. You’re no one’s mother (ok, you might be, and you might be at the office, but you know what I mean). But you are interested in getting things done in a specified time frame in order to meet your own obligations and goals.

To that end, let people know you’re going to nag about items that require such time frames. When you know you need something, do not be afraid to ask for data back by specific dates and times. Always explain why, try to be as transparent as possible about your requests, and reiterate that you understand that it is a request. If it’s a pressing request and they cannot agree to the time frame, that’s ok, too. You can either escalate to get the time you need from that person or tell the person who requires the data that they’ll have to wait (more on escalating—preferably without making people upset—in future blog posts). Then be sure to follow up with your information source after securing a time when you can check back.

What about requests that you have to fulfill that come in with no time frames? So, for example, you need an answer about a question you received this afternoon. There may be no time expectation expressed by the person who asked you, but using you judgment you would try not to assume there isn’t one. Because, for every request you will ever receive, there is always a time expectation, even if one isn’t expressed. Assuming there’s no hurry, or assuming that answering immediately is required can both be problematic. Answering too soon may mean your answer may not contain the full expected data set, and answering too late can be, well, too late.

When you receive requests, always try to get an idea of the importance of the request and the time frame. People will, without fail, inadvertently distort both. However, with both, you can make an educated guess about how fast you need to get an item completed. In turn, after taking the task, you can have a better idea of how much time to negotiate with others over before getting the data you require to return to the original requestor.

And, doing it all patiently, calmly and consistently will make some people actually ENJOY you nagging them. Really. It has happened to me, and all of those who reported as such are certifiably sane (or so they tell me).

1 comment:

  1. The way I avoid getting nagged is to have a spot on the internal company wiki where I have my current list of priorities for the week. (It’s also a good place to list everything I already did, so I can refer to it at review time. It grows throughout the quarter and then gets shunted to an archive page.) There’s a strict hierarchy for the importance of my currently assigned tasks, which I work out with my manager. If anyone wants to distract me, I show them the list and tell them to talk to my manager if they need my priorities to change. (If there’s a genuine hair-on-fire emergency, I’m free to change it and just update my manager about it... but most of the time it’s better to just let my manager handle the negotiations. That’s what he’s there for, after all.)