People Stuff: Workload Capacity and Managing Expectations

Photo by Mr. Thinktank

Photo by Mr. Thinktank

Woody Allen once said that 80% of success is showing up.  I am more inclined to believe that 80% of success is managing expectations.  If you manage expectations and then consistently deliver, if not exceed them, people are likely to be OK with virtually whatever happens, even if sometimes you are preparing them for bad news or the possibility of a bad event.  They were prepared and you did what you said you would do.

Every organization has an unwritten norm regarding the amount of hours people are expected to work.  These norms aren’t universal across the company for obvious reasons.  Generally, there are exempt and non-exempt employees.  The non-exempts, at least in the U.S., tend to work 40-hour weeks and get overtime if they put in more hours.  The exempts, however, tend to work hours that are more consistent with the culture.  For instance, there are some companies where everyone works 40 hours or so, including the senior leaders.  There are other companies where 50-hour workweeks are not uncommon, and still others where 60-80 hour workweeks are typical for certain levels.

I am not here to judge what is right or wrong in terms of expected hours.  I worked 60-80 hours for years, as did many of my colleagues.  It was the game we enthusiastically played.  If we didn’t play it, we would lose an opportunity to someone else.  Not everyone played, but those who didn’t tended to reap less of the rewards.  So it goes.

The real issues are:

  • What is the norm for your organization?
  • What, if anything, are you communicating to your colleagues and your candidates for hire?
  • What are the implications for your accountability chart (A/C)?

Are you being candid?  Are you being open and honest?  Are you managing expectations?

The reality is that just like we imperfectly balance the needs of our personal and professional lives, we will never have a perfectly balanced A/C.  All we can do is endeavor to keep balancing it in a manageable manner so we can attract and retain great people.  For example, you may decide to build your A/C so that every seat works anywhere from 80% of expected capacity (i.e., 50 hours if your culture is 50 hours) to 120%.

We owe it to our employees to give them an understanding of our load management philosophy.  I am confident that every one of your great workers would be willing to go to 120% of capacity for some period of time before you give them help, and that everyone of them would be asking for additional work if they got below 80% of capacity.  80/120% isn’t an absolute by any stretch; it is just a model for not only managing expectations, but also for having a decent grasp of when you need to create another seat.

Until next time, may you build with passion and confidence.

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