Too Little Resources For Too Many Demands
What consultant Jesse Sostrin calls “the manager’s dilemma” is easily explained and all too familiar to any manager: too much demand, not enough resources. Specifically, as Sostrin writes in his new book, The Manager’s Dilemma: Balancing the Inverse Equation of Increasing Demands and Shrinking Resources, “There is not — and never will be — enough time, energy, resources or focus to meet the demand.” As a result, managers and businesses are often toggling between a “performance zone,” where resources meet demands, and a “danger zone,” when resources and demands are out of balance, and one, Sostrin writes, becomes “defensive, disorganized, disrupted, disoriented and disengaged.” (Sostrin uses the evocative acronym TERF for time, energy, resources and focus.)
Before addressing the dilemma, you have to know that it exists, Sostrin writes. Many managers are unaware that they are in the dilemma. They say things such as, “With so many deadlines and demands, some priorities will have to be sacrificed,” or “It’s too crazy now; I’ll focus better once things settle down.”
Contradictory statements such as these — not addressing priorities only means that the deadlines and demands will continue, for example — are red flags that indicate the manager is entangled in the manager’s dilemma and doesn’t know it, writes Sostrin. “The first and best response to the manager’s dilemma,” he explains, “is to accept the situation for what it is and to focus all of your available TERF in a concentrated effort to balance the equation.”
Principles to Guide Managers
Balancing the equation is the first of the two big phases that managers must achieve to effectively emerge from the manager’s dilemma. Sostrin offers four principles, explored in detail in the book, that will guide managers in balancing the equation.
The first principle is to follow the contradiction. Contradictions, explains Sostrin, are subtle clues that tell the alert manager something is wrong. Rushing your work because you have no time to slow down, only to spend more time fixing the mistakes in the rushed work is a typical contradiction reflecting the manager’s dilemma.
Once alerted, the other three principles help you move out of the danger zone: Determine your line of sight; in other words, focus on the right priorities. Distinguish your contributions; that is, know your strongest value-added capabilities, and use those capabilities over others. And plug the leaks, i.e., the ongoing experiences that reduce performance by draining your TERF.
These four principles, writes Sostrin, “rebalance the inverse equation of shrinking resources and increasing demands” — but he believes managers can do better. In a section called “Flip the Scales,” Sostrin introduces an additional four principles that, he writes, will “render the dilemma’s effects irrelevant.”
The first principle is to create the conditions you need to achieve more value. A sample of such conditions, according to Sostrin, includes flexibility, openness to diverse ideas or a willingness to innovate even if it requires letting go of the past.
The second principle is to find the pocket of influence. The issue is timing — learning the optimal time to take the bold action required. Sostrin’s third principle is to convert your challenges to fuel — in other words, turn setbacks into opportunities for learning and performance. A tool called the navigation map makes this possible. Finally, Sostrin urges you to make your goals their priorities. This last principle entails building a mutual agenda with your team.
Scenarios, examples and tools in The Manager’s Dilemma support this solid eight-principle methodology for addressing one of the core barriers to management performance: too little resources for too many demands.