Have you ever gone to a fair or exhibition that has rides for young people? Occasionally you could come across a game called “WAC-a-mole”. It’s a game where you are given a mallet as your standing before a table with a bunch of 4 inch holes in it. As the game starts a “mole” or plastic critter pops its head out of holes quickly one at a time. The object of the game is to wack the head of the mole as soon as you can. If you hit it with enough force you will gain a point. For the next 60 or so seconds moles pop out every half second or so at various locations around the table. Your mallet is flying around trying to rack up as many points as possible. The person with the most points… wins. I’ve learned to be cynical of the game because it represents life too much.
Being a manager can often times resemble playing WAC-a-mole. An issue arises that seems to require immediate attention, a quick answer or directive. Just as that issue is “pointed out” another one pops up. Over and over again, all day long, one issue after the other consumes your time and energy. It doesn’t seem to stop until the end of the day… only to restart the next morning.
A well structured company will always require a manager to deal with issues, but a poorly structured company requires the manager to deal with all or too many issues.
I’m a big fan of the book “the four disciplines of execution” (Chris McChesney, Jim Huling and Sean Covey). This great book introduces the reader to an all too familiar topic, the “whirlwind”, the daily activity that takes you away from achieving your goals in business/life. They are necessary in operations but distract from the important things in your organization (or life).
Though there are several other books that talk about the busyness of work/life the 4dx uses word “whirlwind”, a very apt term for some of our lives and work. Some issues are needed but many are not.
Friends and family can sometimes project too much drama for the content being presented. They needlessly drag us into issues that absorb countless minutes and hours of uselessness. If we are not careful we can waist irredeemable swaths of our lives dealing with urgent nothingness.
I have developed two responses that seem to have minimized this life tendency significantly (these are neither exclusive nor exhaustive). The first is isn’t actually a response because its the habit of “non-response”. Too often we need to be needed, so when any issue arises our knee jerk response is to put our two cents worth into it. This dose NOT need to happen. Many conflicts actually solve themselves without our input. Just because we are given a mallet to WAC the mole doesn’t automatically mean we “NEED” to use it at the first sight of a rodent. If we can’t hold our own tongue, too often we are the problem… not the solution. Developing additional patience and trust for those around us reduces the tendency to be the pre-madonna. Yes, it may require self confidence in your future, but focusing on the truly important requires the need to weed out the urgent. Being indispensable for the important, needs us distancing ourselves from the simple urgent issues.
The second response is the preempting of issues before the issues actually occur. Seeing danger or conflicts before they actually become an issue is the requirement of every great manager. Its the 30,000 foot perspective. The ability to see why or how the urgent is developing in the first place, not just seeing it come to our desk.
Once we see why or how its being developed we much pinch off the process at the point of origin. Under most circumstances this requires 10-100 times the effort and time to solve. However, properly solved it will reduce the long term exposure to the urgent. Well worth the investment.
Avoiding the WAC-a-mole game is critical to developing a great company and team. It’s certainly not easy but it is always worth the effort.