Boss’s deadline obsession requires a frank conversation

Deadlines can be great motivators, but they must be used properly.  |  Getty Images

Q: The assistant branch manager in the little bank where I work attended a workshop for all branch managers teaching them the art of employee motivation.

Our guy fell into an obsession with deadlines. Apparently setting deadlines is one of the strategies managers can deploy when they want their staff to spruce up productivity.

But our guy has overdone it. He wants deadlines on everything. I swear that he would put a deadline on me sharpening my pencil if he thought that he could get away with it. We are getting sick of it.

In all likelihood, deadlines are making us less efficient than we were before our man went to his workshop. In fact, this little strategy could result in two or three of the other girls turning in their resignations.

I don’t want that to happen and I don’t want to quit. I love it here. I love the work and I love the staff. But I must admit this whole thing on deadlines is annoying. How do you suggest that we see our way through this glitch and get this place back into that efficient and productive small branch office it once was?

A: Researchers who study motivation tell us that each of us has two sources.

One involves things that are intrinsic to your well-being. It is that enthusiasm, joy, love and energy that you pour into those projects you love to do.

The other source is external — your employee benefits, including your pay cheque, annual bonuses, words of praise and a certificate from the corporation telling you how much you have been appreciated by the company’s shareholders and management.

At the moment, you appear to have a battle going on between the intrinsic motivation driving you and your colleagues and the external motivation your manager is trying to initiate. As it is with most battles, both sides are losing.

Your best bet is to dismantle the battle lines and invite your assistant branch manager into an open discussion about what is going on in your office.

More specifically, you want to talk to him about his drift into the obsession with deadlines.

Don’t misinterpret me, there is not necessarily anything wrong with deadlines. Used properly they can be great motivators and support mechanisms. But they have to be used properly.

Deadlines are best deployed when both you and management agree to the project and a logical time for completion.

If you and your management are into it together, you will not only find that you will focus more clearly, but you will also be drawing more energy into the task than you expected. The closer you get to your goal, the more energy you have to pour into it and the more energy you invest, the closer you get to completion. It is a paradox.

The beauty of it is, that once you have set a deadline for yourself you are less likely to get distracted with your other responsibilities and that bodes well for the quality of your work. Most of us do better when we are focused.

The downside of setting deadlines is that they can generate unnecessary anxiety when you run into unexpected glitches on your expectation for a smooth journey. This is the moment for your manager to shine.

Good managers recognize anxiety in their staff, they work with their staff to relieve the tensions and they help them get the job done when a little assistance is necessary. They know that the end product is a satisfied worker, good management and a job well done. I don’t think that your assistant branch manager could ask for more.

Jacklin Andrews is a family counsellor from Saskatchewan. Contact: jandrews@producer.com.

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