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The Capacity Seesaw-Dealing with the Overwhelm That’s Affecting Your Clients’ Experience

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When someone on your team gets overwhelmed, they start dropping balls. That affects the rest of the team and your clients. Let’s look at how to deal with it.

So you’ve got a person on your team who you know is a good culture fit.

But they’re dropping the ball. They’re making mistakes and missing things because they’re overwhelmed. They’ve got too much on their plate and they’re struggling to keep up.

Then you have a performance review and try to fix things. It works for a while and then they’re right back where they started.

I call this the capacity seesaw. We’re going to cover a few things that you can do to deal with the overwhelm. But first, you need to understand the mindset of people and how it’s related to the situation.

The Mindset of People

This is something that I learned from a friend of mine called Simon Bowen.

My friend Simon Bowen introduced me to a great concept called the six stages of cognition.

The first three are the things that we can actually control. Those are:

  1. Environment
  2. Time
  3. Role

Put these three stages together and you’ve basically got a job description. These are also the three stages that management philosophy tends to focus on.

Take walk-around management as an example. The idea here is that you take a bit of time to walk around the office to see what’s up with your team.

What you’re doing here is that you’re spending your “time” and using your “role” as CEO to walk around your “environment”. You hope doing this will influence people.

That’s what creates transnational management.

These three stages cover questions like what am I doing here, how do I spend my time, and where do I work?

Then you have the second three stages. They are:

  1. Values
  2. Beliefs
  3. Identity

These are much harder to change and influence than the first three stages. They come factory-installed.

It’s like hardware and software. Your software covers the first three stages while your hardware covers the second three.

When these second three stages are in alignment, things go really well.

But when someone’s environment, time, and role stresses on those values, things start going poorly.

For example, you could have someone who’s doing really well. But then the client gets more demanding. They start asking for a personal phone number and start making calls out of office hours.

That’s placing more demands on time, which creates stress on a person’s values, beliefs, and identity.

That’s what’s going to end up leaving someone feeling overwhelmed.

The Problem With Overwhelm

The problem here is that you may not see these little things that an overwhelmed person’s doing. For example, I’ve seen agency owners who didn’t know that their staff had given their personal cell phone number to a client, picking up calls on the weekend, even though that’s not something they intended for them to do.

They’re self-imposed problems. The person’s taking on more than they should take on without your knowledge.

This is where your one-to-one meetings come in. You need to establish the workplace norms and try to figure out what the person’s doing that’s resulting in them getting overwhelmed.

The big problem here is that their time’s getting stretched. And when that happens, the first thing they’ll do is operate based on their standard belief system…

Giving the Client Their Happy

What is that belief system?

Keep the client happy, no matter what.

This leads to another problem. The person who’s overwhelmed will start borrowing from their own happiness to make the client happy.

Ultimately, this causes your overwhelmed person to look at their role and realize they’re unhappy in it. As a result of that unhappiness, they create even more pressure in their environment. This is all self-imposed as you didn’t tell them to do the things they’re doing to keep the client happy.

As that pressure goes up, the person feels less safe at work.

In the end, they decide that their values no longer align with yours. This affects their identity and beliefs, which creates a vicious cycle.

The overwhelmed person becomes unhappier. The irony is that their belief in the need to keep the client happy leads to them dropping the ball more often.

Which means the client ends up unhappy anyway.

It’s something that you need to catch early. And once you’ve caught it, you need to look at the person and figure out how to spend your time on them.

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Where Should You Spend Your Time?

According to Dan Sullivan, there are four types of people that you may have in your business:

  1. Always Growing. These are your confident and high-performing people. They’re happy, healthy, and have great focus. They get the job done and don’t require a lot of maintenance.
  2. Conventionally Successful. This is someone who’s experienced success in the past and now they’re just coasting. A salesperson who did really well a few months ago but isn’t doing much now is a good example. They’re confident but low-performing.
  3. Feeling Sorry. These are the people who are most likely to be your cultural vampires. They’re not performing and they have no confidence. They’re confused and constantly feeling sorry for themselves. This drags the rest of your team down.
  4. Don’t Know How to Help Themselves. This is where our overwhelmed person usually finds themselves. They’re confused and struggling with their confidence. They were a high-performing person, but they’re gradually slipping towards low performance. And they don’t know how to ask for help.

Here’s what I want you to ask yourself:

“Would I enthusiastically hire this person again?”

If the answer’s “no”, fire them immediately. This isn’t someone who’s just overwhelmed. They’re either someone who’s “Feeling Sorry” and doesn’t fit your culture. Or they’re “Conventionally Successful” and now willing to change when you give them a kick up the backside.

These are your cultural vampires. Get rid of them now and your team will thank you for it. You’ll need to let them know that they’ll have to gut it out for a while as you search for a replacement. But they’ll appreciate no longer having to drag someone along who doesn’t fit the culture.

If you answer “yes”, you likely have someone who doesn’t know how to help themselves. They’re somebody who’s susceptible to getting overwhelmed because they impose too much pressure on themselves.

This is where the person’s sense of identity comes into play again.

“If I ask for help, I must be weak.”

That’s not the case at all and you’ve got to establish that it’s okay for them to ask for help. It’s okay for them to let you know when things get on top of them.

Here are a couple of techniques you can use to get this person back on track.

Technique #1 – Coach Up

The first priority is to not give them more work but to actually reduce their priorities.

Say they have six priorities in their role. Tell them that you want them to focus on one, two, and three, but not four, five, or six. Cut their workload in half and take away some of the pressure they impose on themselves.

Get them hitting the three priorities they have left to boost their confidence back up. From there, you can coach them back up to the level you need them to be at.

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Technique #2 – Create a Scorecard Meeting

The second thing you can do is to create a scorecard meeting.

The key here is that this isn’t a one-to-one thing. It’s a one-to-many meeting that you’ll hold weekly with the team.

Each member on that team has a scorecard, including the person who’s on the capacity seesaw.

That card tracks the person’s performance based on the commitments they’ve made to you.

Here’s how it works.

You set out the KPIs and tasks that the person needs to complete every week. Then you create a tolerance rating. Say they have 10 tasks, they need to deliver on at least eight of them every week.

Then every week, you get the team together and review the scorecards.

If someone’s falling below the tolerance levels, you’re going to discuss why they’re stuck. What’s holding them back?

Is someone on their team sick, so they’re taking on more work? Are they waiting for clients to deliver something that they need?

Have them talk about what’s stopping them from hitting their commitments.

This is ideal for someone who struggles to ask for help. You’re getting a sense of where they’re at. Plus, you’re learning about what they’re struggling with without having to wait for them to tell you. That means you can provide guidance without feeling like your constantly following up on them.

The Takeaway

The key here is that you’re creating a system to stop people from dropping the ball. Instead of constantly tidying up, you have a couple of things in place to catch issues before they escalate.

That’s how you prevent your people from falling onto the capacity seesaw.

They deliver a better client experience because they’re not overwhelmed. Plus, you get past the “weakness” of asking for help. You help your people confront the core belief that’s led them to an unhappy place.

Dev “Mindset Master” Basu