How Systems Solve “Urgent” Requests

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You may not be aware that in college I participated in my university debate team for 3 years, competing nationally against Harvard, Dartmouth, US Naval Academy, Georgetown, Berkeley, Stanford… all the big schools and many of the smaller ones as well.  It was fun and challenging and thrilling, especially when my win rates during the first 2 years placed me in the top 5 teams nationally in my divisions.

My sophomore year I debated with Josh, who has since gone on to practice law, and our partnership was unique in a few aspects. In strategizing with another female debater who had a male partner, I learned an important lesson. Here’s what she told me:

I learned that he has selective hearing in debate rounds; it’s not intentional but if he’s focused on something else I could talk and he doesn’t hear a word.  So I learned to use the “urgent voice” that catches his attention every time.  It’s the “house is on fire” or “you don’t do this and we’ll lose” voice and it was pretty effective. But then he started to block out the “urgent voice” so I had to use it less frequently. It seems to work, I trust him to cover the debate and only insist on his full, immediate attention if something is truly urgent.

Now, if you’re a parent and reading this I’m sure you know that voice. The one that says “I’m not playing around, you do this right now or you will be forever sorry!”

It’s the voice we use when someone is about to run into the street in front of a speeding car or is reaching for the hot stove. Yes, sometimes it’s also the voice when the dog has his nose an inch from the plate of cookies that you just pulled out of the oven.

If you use the “urgent voice” all the time then others will become desensitized to its effect and you’ll need to become more and more shrill to get your point across.

I share this because I see too many entrepreneurs who run every day of their business with the “urgent voice” and their teams are suffering because of it.

When everything becomes an emergency we will tune out and fail to recognize true urgency through the noise. Are you making this mistake in your business? If you find yourself always in emergency mode then systems are going to save your sanity.

It’s easier to consult the launch checklist and assign tasks than it is to realize you had the wrong pricing listed on the order form and try to fix it later. It’s simpler to get clarity with your whole team about deliverables and due dates before an event than when you’re trying to figure out what went wrong afterwards.

So, how do you avoid constant “urgent voice” in your business and get your team working on an even keel so you can recognize the true emergencies? The answer: develop systems that train your team about what needs to be done and when it should be completed.

Instead of rushing around screeching “oh my the sales page needs to reflect the new pricing! Ahhh! Who can do that?!” All the while giving your team more stress than needed, you need a complete launch map that gives the entire process.

Let’s demystify the word system for a moment, okay? It’s not that complicated!  Just like the hiring system I shared here, you can take any process and break it down into chunks. For the hiring system it would be:

  • Making a decision to hire and thinking about who you need
  • Asking for applications
  • Making a decision, hiring for the position

This system has a bunch of little steps which just need to be assigned with deadlines. Who makes the decision about hiring and when do you need to decide? Who emails the candidates who don’t get hired? When do you send the contract to be signed?

Each of these questions becomes a task within the system, which can be organized in a list, a spreadsheet or project management software.

Now, instead of getting overwhelmed and going into “urgent voice” you can simply check the system, see what has been completed, who is responsible for what and ensure everything is on track. Of course if something is not on track, you’ll know that as well and can make adjustments before it’s too late.

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