Nine To Five: How do I deal with unreasonable deadline demands?

globe and mailGlobe and Mail, July 2, 2012

THE QUESTION

I manage an internal graphic design team that provides services to other groups within the same company. Most of our clients are very reasonable but there are some who are in the habit of making unreasonable turnaround demands. We have established typical turnaround times, but they are usually ignored. There is always some emergency or another that simply must be dealt with immediately. If we don’t deliver, the company will lose a big account or a publication will not be released at an event, etc.

THE ANSWER

Colleen Clarke

Corporate trainer and career specialist, Toronto

Interesting how people with emergencies think their problems are more important than the ones your team is already working on. Sigh! Do you have a giant white board with your projects and their deadlines listed? If you did, then when the emergency is presented to you, you could show the client with the emergency the board and ask them whose work you should bump to handle their request. Put the onus on the interloper.

Build emergency time into your schedules. If emergencies are a regular occurrence, provide broader time lines in general, which would give your team more flexibility flex time when a last-minute request comes in. Assign a “rover,” if the budget allows, who would be available to step out of an existing project and take on the emergency for a short period of time.

If communication is what is lacking in your office, starting talking. Walk each client through the execution process from the time they drop the bomb, to completion. Show and tell them why this is such a difficult situation for your staff. Most employees have no idea what their colleagues do that supports their work. Once people see and understand how a project – let alone an emergency – operates, they just might be more sensitive to your department’s priorities and scheduling.

Reinforce to your staff that they are doing great work and their job is to produce high-quality, accurate work at the best pace they can. Offer incentives and perks when there is overtime required, especially last-minute overtime. Keep your team happy and proud of their output.