Our latest newsletter for lawyers covers stress, sources of support and how to manage firms and departments to reduce it. It can be found on our website here (opens in new window).
It always seems easier to do it yourself than to delegate to someone else, but a growing business depends on delegation. Learn more in our latest Law Matters Newsletter, as well as details of a VIP Day offer, and a free lawyer joke. Download NewsletterVol8No1
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Some people really are perfectionists. It is not necessarily an easy life. For one thing it can be very stressful, both in the amount of work involved and in the reaction to not achieving perfection. They can feel overwhelmed.
Should I ever have brain surgery, I am rather keen on a surgeon who is a perfectionist. The result is of the greatest importance. Perfection though is not always necessary, nor even desirable.
Take the chef who insists on the finest and most exotic ingredients for every dish, and for each dish to be unique. That may take the food outside the price range of the restaurant, and the time involved in preparation may limit the number of customers served. More importantly, it may not be what customers want. Steak and chips can be a valid preference, and quality then consists of delivering that well.
If you are a perfectionist, it is worth working out when “good enough” is good enough, particularly in relation to what your audience requires. Finding out what your boss and/or your clients require is a good start. Tailor your actions accordingly. None of this of course justifies sloppiness, but instead a commitment to delivering the quality that is appropriate.
When you are concentrating, interruptions break the flow. Think of Samuel Taylor Coleridge who woke one morning with the poem Kubla Khan complete in his mind. Part way through writing it out a Person from Porlock knocked on the door and broke his concentration. As a result, the work was never finished, and it remains the most famous half-a-poem in the English language.
The problem has become worse over recent years, with open plan offices, direct dialling, email, and the disappearance of the secretary-as-gatekeeper.
Most of us grudgingly accept interruptions by clients, not always with good grace, but are irritated by our colleagues. We forget that it may be part of our job to be available to colleagues, for instance providing guidance to more junior staff.
Here are some ways of creating blocks of time to enable you to get things done.
Signal that you are engaged. If you cannot shut the office door find another way. At Asda’s open plan head office, that used involve wearing a red baseball cap.
Divert you phone to someone who can take a message (and interrupt if really necessary) or failing that to voicemail. Return calls as soon as you are free. Do not check your emails during the block of time you are creating.
Manage expectations and set boundaries. If you are at your most productive in the morning, let your staff know that you are available after lunch. And if someone is collecting for Doris’s leaving present, send them away until your “availability period”. Client expectations can also be managed: tell them the best time to get hold of you, or tell them who else in the team can give them an update. Better still, get in first with an update, which leaves you with a happy client as well as allowing you to choose your own time.
Get this right, and you will be more in control, more productive and less stressed. The sense of overwhelm will be reduced, and there should be a knock on effect of happier clients and staff. And who knows, you may get to spend more quality time with the children.
As ever, if we can help you work through these issues, get in touch.
I was at the presentation of a paper at Birmingham University this week on the Battle of the Sambre on 4th to 6th November 1918. The battle is mainly remembered for the death of the poet Wilfred Owen.
The details of the battle are not important, except that the Germans were defending a canal, on both sides. The British needed to be able to cross the canal (Owen was killed in attempting to cross).
One interesting aside is that the Royal Engineers (being engineers) started to address the problem of crossing the canal some weeks before anyone else thought about the issue.
The canal crossing had mixed results. In part there was an element of German mistakes, combined with luck. Occupying both banks of the canal meant that the Germans had to be able to cross it themselves, so in some instances had left undefended plank bridges (while heavily defending the stone bridge further along). This allowed British infantry to cross almost unopposed in places. So always adapt a plan to circumstances, and to dumb luck.
Methods of crossing varied from rafts to collapsible boats to bridges. Even the bridges varied from wheeled light bridges to cross a narrow lock to hinged bridges which could be installed quickly to pontoon bridges which had to be bolted together in the water (and thus under fire).
One issue at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 was the attempt to make decisions at Corps level, when they were out of touch with the reality of the front line. At Sambre, General Braithwaite of XII Corps effectively told his divisional commanders “Here is your objective, you decide how to achieve it. Let me know what resources you need”.
The result was much more flexibility in the light of changing circumstances, but also more patchy execution. There was something of a silo mentality, so that captured materials were not shared between Divisions, nor were innovative ideas. Hence the method of bridging the canal varied significantly not only in their method, but in their speed, effectiveness and in their casualty rates.
So what can we learn? As always, delegate not abdicate. Be aware of the potential problems of delegation, as well as its benefits. Set up mechanisms to share best practice and avoid silo thinking, and use your authority as a leader to ensure that these mechanisms work.
Our November Law Matters newsletter is now available via our website here. This deals with making delegation work, not only on an individual basis, but also delegation by the CEO to the organisation.
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