Archive for September 20th, 2010

Godzilla in the corner office.

Monday, September 20th, 2010

Ever see an old Godzilla movie where the monster roams around Tokyo and wipes out buildings, ships, and train lines accidentally, just by waving his tail? I’ve got that image stuck in my head recently.

I’ve been working at an organization that’s grown from five people to 55 in the past 18 months. Kudos to them: they’re doing great work, making a real difference in their market, and continuing to grow. The staff is focused, dedicated to the mission, and very hard working.

They’re also frustrated at the number of urgent, drop-everything-and-get-this-done-now, orders from the president. Or more precisely, they’re frustrated by the number of *perceived* urgent, drop-everything-and-get-this-done-now, orders from the president.

In fact, when you watch the president in her daily work, you realize that most of her requests are actually not urgent orders. She’s asking for some information or some task to get done, but it’s almost never urgent.

The problem is, the staff *thinks* those requests are urgent, get-it-done-now issues because they’re coming from the president.

When the organization was smaller — and in more humble offices — the atmosphere was more casual. A five- or eight-person organization doesn’t really have much (or much need for) hierarchy. But when you’ve got 55 people, nice offices, and the president sits in a glass corner office, you’ve got a different atmosphere and different implicit assumptions. Now, a simple request from the big cheese becomes an urgent order.

There’s an apocryphal story I once heard about the CEO of a Fortune 100 firm who was visiting one of his company’s plants. He asked an idle question about their production statistics compared to one of their competitor’s. When he came back for a visit four months later, the plant manager handed him an enormous 3-ring binder with a full production analysis and comparison with the other firm.

Problem was, the CEO didn’t care about the report at all. He asked an idle question. He didn’t expect or want a full report on the issue. But when the CEO asks a question, it’s easy to take is as an order.

When you’re in the corner office, you’ve got incredible power. People think your requests are orders. At the very least, your staff wants to please you. Like Godzilla, you’ve got enormous power — even your tail swishing behind you can cause enormous damage, without you even realizing it. You’ve got to be very careful about what you ask for.

If it’s not something urgent, let people know. If you have a time frame for a request, tell them what it is. Otherwise, your team will assume that it’s urgent and will drop all their other work to make you happy. Specificity and clarity will keep you from being Godzilla.