“Did you take the week off?” I asked a Rick, a fellow dad, at my son’s first grade Thanksgiving show.
“What are you, crazy?” he said with a chuckle. “I’m driving into the city after this.”
After a brief pause, Rick said, “You know, if I could stop time for a year, maybe I’d catch up.”
Rick is the sales director at a large advertising sales company in New York.
“So your job is pretty high-stress?” I asked, to which he presented me with another incredulous look.
“Well,” I asked, “how many people do you manage?”
“Over 250,” he said.
“And how many direct reports?”
“250,” he laughed.
“No seriously,” I said. “How many direct reports?”
“Seriously, 250,” he said. “And any one of them can get in touch with me at any time.”
“You must have some pile of email,” I said, to which he proudly produced his phone for me to see over 6,000 emails in his inbox.
“Our philosophy is you put out the fires and, if anything falls to the floor, so be it,” he said. “Our other philosophy is that if you can get your work done by the end of the day, you have too many people (on your team).”
Now, I know there are companies out there that are not run well, but to hear it so brazenly described was shocking. Chaos theory may have helped us understand certain natural phenomena and the stock market, but I don’t know many who institute it as a business practice.
Let’s start with governance. There is a reason we have it, there is a reason that high level folks have only a handful of reports, and on down the line. This, of course, is so each one of your reports can actually be managed and mentored. Can you imagine how many of Rick’s salespeople have reached out to him only to have their issues “fall to the floor,” lost among the other 6,000 emails in his inbox? And one can only speculate how many of fires that were ultimately put out left behind a scorched customer.
Rick has been with this organization ever since he graduated college, over 20 years ago, and so it’s the only culture he knows. But I can tell you this — Rick does not look healthy. He looks as you might imagine someone with 6,000 emails in your inbox would look, as someone who commutes in and out of NYC from NJ and has two kids on top of it might look. And that’s not a good thing for Rick, his family, his team or his customers.
And what about this “getting your work done by the end of the day means you’ve got too much staff?” So only those who can’t get the job done are doing the job right? Is this the bizarro world? One can only imagine the turnover at this organization. But as often is the case in jobs with commission structures, the higher ups seem to take as little interest in their folks as they’ve financially invested in them.
So this week, let’s take a look at our organizations, at our teams, and make sure we’re doing anti-Rick type of things. Let’s make sure we have the right number of reports so we can serve them well and also have enough time left over to get our jobs done. Let’s make sure our teams are large enough so folks don’t have to take their work home with them only to return feeling as if they’ve never left. And let’s say that a measure of success isn’t how many fires we’ve put out, but how many we’ve prevented through correct staffing, structuring and leadership.
Rick may have learned to live in a chaotic and stress-filled environment, but it is certainly not the best way to live, not the best way to lead. You know better. If you see similar red flags in your world, do the right thing and make some changes.