In fact, it dominates my life. My business, Actinic, has thousands of customers; nearly all of them are small businesses. There’s a constant stream of chatter, everything from compliments to criticisms, sales to suggestions. I also get scores of unsolicited emails each day. When you also throw in the fact I’m a non-executive director of a plc it can be very easy to work longer hours each day.
Business gurus seem to suggest that those of us in business should barely have time to breath. We’re told that we all need to be customer focussed (which is code for talking to lots of customers). When we are not talking to customers we also need to be obsessed with customer service so that we can “delight” customers. We need to know all about industry trends and yes, we need to be committed to continuous improvement with ideas solicited and welcomed from every part of the organisation. It’s making me tired just writing about it.
I have noticed that some people cope with this by closing themselves off from all input. They don’t take sales calls, they don’t have an open door and never attend industry events. It works in terms of reducing demands, but I think that this is a mistake. In a fast moving world, we need to see the trucks coming before they hit us.
Here’s my formula which works for me, but you’ll need to customise accordingly. The key thing is to decide …
- How you will handle the issue rather than letting things happen by accident
- How to prioritise your time.
In my opinion, tackling these two points makes for a successful strategy for dealing with the problem of clutter that besets everyone in management.
I generally accept all input. I look on customer forums, I attend industry events, I take sales calls and I let any member of staff talk to me. However, I am ruthless about dropping what isn’t of interest. I take the sales call, but after 20 seconds I usually decide that I’m not interested. I then cut it off as politely as possible, but whatever, the phone is down after a further 10 seconds.
I prioritise what I do. At any time I have a list of priorities, and I work on what’s at the top of the list. New tasks are added, but they don’t get done if higher priority tasks are outstanding. Regularly I go through the list, purging stuff I added months ago which has turned out never to be important enough to do.
This is my approach, but I believe that the key thing is to find a method that works for you. A while ago, the awful realisation dawned on me that this is the essence of business. Coming up with ideas is exciting but there’s so much information and so many ideas out there that coming up with more doesn’t matter that much. Instead, you must find a way of distilling the essence out of what’s available. It’s called “management” and our capability in this area will mostly dictate the success or otherwise of our business.