Most managers fight a daily battle with the biggest productivity killer: Interruptions.
Interruptions derail us constantly.
In fact, managers face an average of four interruptions from their staff every hour of every work day, a researcher at the University of California-Irvine found. That’s not even counting the number of interruptions from text, social media, calls, and mindless personal distractions!
“A lot of people feel that they want to go above and beyond what they ordinarily do to be able to signal to colleagues that they’re working hard,” says the researcher, Gloria Mark, author of Attention Span.
But that’s not the way to get things done — and get employees to stop interrupting them.
Why all the interruptions?
Why do employees come to their managers so much, asking questions about how to do a task, solve an issue or get the OK on something they should be empowered to do?
Problem is, many employees don’t want to or aren’t equipped to solve their own problems. From software questions to flare-ups with co-workers, many employees make their boss the first and last stop on the road to solutions.
But the good news is managers can do something to stop the interruptions and get employees to solve their own problems. That way, everyone can do their jobs better.
Here are four strategies that will help:
1. Don’t be so smart
Leaders often work on autopilot, listening to what comes at them and handling it. So when an employee comes in and asks a question, managers answer it and get back to work. (But not all that quickly. Mark found in one study that when people are interrupted they almost always get back to the task the same day, but it takes about 20 minutes and they pick up two other tasks in the meantime.)
So when you take the interruption and answer the question or fix the problem, employees start working on autopilot: Ask a question, get an answer, do what’s said. They don’t gain the experience and knowledge that will help them solve their problems today, tomorrow or next year.
Stop enabling this cycle with one question of your own: “What would you do in this situation?”
2. Help them distinguish
Some issues do need a manager’s immediate attention – for instance, reports of harassment or violation.
But more often, managers don’t need to get involved right away or ever.
Helping employees distinguish between what needs to come to the boss’ attention and what doesn’t will curb unnecessary interruptions.
One way is to ask yourself, “Is this something that must be solved right now?” Then encourage them to start asking themselves that before they even come to you.
3. Point them in another direction
Managers know almost all the answers because they’re seasoned and learned along the way where to get the information and how to use it properly.
But there’s a time managers actually need to withhold valuable information.
Managers want to push employees in the right direction to answer their questions on policies, processes or problem-solving. If it’s available via a company resource, managers can point them toward a channel in the internal app, an online handbook, procedure guide, policy guideline, etc.
Employees will remember information they uncover and retain more information when they read or view it as opposed to when it’s just spoken to them.
4. Create a culture of solutions
Some issues will always require managers’ involvement, and most of them only need managers to help, not take full responsibility.
Managers can start building a culture of employee-created solutions by requiring staff to bring at least two potential solutions to them with every issue they believe requires the boss’ attention.
That can curb interruptions immediately as employees start identifying and implementing solutions without involving managers.
For the issues that still come up, managers want to help employees implement one of their possible solutions, when appropriate.
That will build their confidence to resolve more on their own down the road.