Our New Normal, it’s all-you-can-eat

Our New Normal is crazy.  Competitors are chewing voraciously on each other, so are suppliers and their customers; there is immense pressure to launch more products; and radical cost cutting is required just to stay in business.  It’s official, the engine is running at its rev limit.  The wick is turned up.  We’re running wide-open.

Your people are tired and stressed, but they won’t admit it openly.  They are too concerned about losing their jobs.  They know anyone looking for a job is hosed.  The consequences?  One word – FORECLOSURE.  They will do whatever it takes to keep their jobs.

We are not infinite capacity beings, so there are limits to “whatever it takes”.  Your people will not work 25 hours a day 8 days a week.  They may sit at their desk more than before, but I assure you they’re not getting more done.  They’re just sitting there more.  That’s all.  In fact, they’re spending most of their emotional energy trying to keep their heads down and trying to stay off the critical path.  There is likely more activity, but less progress.  Certainly there is more stress. This is not healthy or productive.

Most troubling is that our New Normal makes it impossible to say “no”.  New Normal is really code for “can’t say no to anything”.  Say no and you may lose your job.  So guess what?  No one says no.

So what’s the big deal about ripping no from our vocabulary?  Yes no longer means yes.  And with that go all measures of prioritization, predictability, and certainty.  Look at the prime directive – never say no to the person standing in front of you.  With your over-filled plate, saying yes to something means saying no to something else.  So when the person standing in front of you asks you to do something, you can’t deliver on your mandatory yes without something falling off your plate.  And what falls off is a previous mandatory yes said to someone else when they were standing in front of you.  I call this the all-you-can-eat syndrome, where the explicit no is replaced by the implicit no.

We all have experienced the all-you-can-eat buffet.  The food’s not great, but there’s plenty of it.  We pile it on until it falls off and head back to the table to fill ourselves.  But rules of the all-you-can-eat syndrome are a bit different.  For one, instead of paying to eat, we get paid to eat.  Also, company leaders fill our plates for us – sounds good so far.  But here’s the rub.  We can’t say no to more food when it is offered (an explicit no), even when our plates are full and our bellies hurt from over-stuffing.  And, we can’t get caught dropping food from our plates (an implicit no).

There is no easy fix for the all-you-can-eat syndrome, but talking about it is a good first step.  Here are some suggestions to take the edge off.

  • Remember that you have good people who want to work hard for their company.
  • Recognize that your people have over-filled plates and are afraid to say no to more food.
  • Give your people more food only when necessary.
  • Keep portion sizes small.
  • Remember, in this special case, it’s okay to eat off someone else’s plate.

One Response to “Our New Normal, it’s all-you-can-eat”

  • Nick:

    Great article Mike. After a large companywide workforce reduction early in the year we are at 100+% human work capacity even if the manufacturing capital is only at 50% capacity. Be sure we are glad to be here, motivated as heck, reaching new peaks in terms of decision making and efficiency, and even making progress toward profitability. Some recovery has already started. Orders have even increased slightly from the previous quarter. As a result there is new and growing concern at all levels about what happens when the recover gains momentum. Questions arise like:
    -How long could we possibily continue at this pace?
    -What happens when we begin making meaningful mistakes because of over leveraging our human capital?
    -At what pain threshold will the hiring freezes be lifted?
    -Will we make productivity investments instead of hiring, and will they work?
    -When was the last time I made to my son’s soccer practice?

    If you have any thoughts or the metrics to watch that indicate that the rehiring should begin, or how to select and assess productivity improvements, please share.

    Thanks for writing.

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Mike Shipulski Mike Shipulski
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