Addressing management issues

June 1, 2003
Edited by Christopher S. Frings PhD, CSPEffective use of voice mail and a supervisors wife giving orders to other lab techsEffective use of voice mailQ:
I am covered up with voice mail.
Please give me some tips on how to manage voice mail effectively.
A:According to Marti Bailey, I
suggest you inventory the final disposition of all your voice mails for a one-week period. I would expect that at least some of these are being forwarded to other staff members for handling. Consider having this group of calls redirected to the specific person who will be handling them. I have found that serving simply as a middleman provides little value to anyone and wastes a lot of time to boot.
If you are inundated with voice mails, your first action plan should be to delegate more. Also consider whether you are making the best use of other forms of communication. How available are you to speak to directly? Do you receive phone messages because you are difficult to meet with informally? Perhaps you need to establish a regular schedule of open-door time.
Ms. Bailey adds, I have found that e-mail has replaced a lot of my voice mail. Although e-mails can also be overwhelming, efficiencies to be gained are that messages do not have to be transcribed and can be reviewed when it suits you, and replying is easy. Consider suggesting to some of your regular callers that they contact you by e-mail instead of voice mail, whenever possible.Alton Sturtevant advises, Voice mail should be handled just like written mail. Identify those calls that require a response, then prioritize the response into immediate or later. Throw away the junk calls just like you throw away your junk written mail. I try to be responsive to my voice mail right on the phone, but it must not distract me to the detriment of my other duties and priorities. I schedule phone time among all of my duties. I do take time during the day to set my phone to send calls to voice mail if I need to be uninterrupted when focusing on projects or during meetings. This prevents unscheduled interruptions. I do, however, provide the operator and my direct reports with alternative ways to get in touch with me for urgent needs during these times.Dr. Sturtevant adds, I also try to remember to forward my phone to voice mail whenever I leave the office for longer than a few minutes, so that callers will not be inconvenienced with too many rings before voice mail picks up. I change my phone message when I am out of the building for more than a couple of hours to inform the caller that it may be longer than usual before I respond to the call. This same advice applies to e-mail, which tends to be more voluminous than voice mail.Larry Crolla recommends, Do not save voice mail unless you have to. Take notes on the calls and delete them. Answer them, if necessary, after you have had time to come up with a sound answer.Bottom line. Immediately delete voice mail messages that you do not need to answer. Save only those that require a reply. Encourage those who report to you to use e-mail rather than voice mail when appropriate. E-mail is easier to manage than voice mail for most of us. If you are receiving too many voice mails from those reporting to you, there may be a delegation issue that you need to address. Voice mail, when used correctly, is a great communication tool.Supervisors wife giving orders
to other lab techs
I work in a small rural 50-bed hospital where my co-workers and I have been subjected to a very uncomfortable situation. Our supervisor had an affair with one of our techs around the time he was married about two years ago. The supervisors wife/coworker criticizes the rest of the techs work and bosses them around. If we disagree with her or tell her we are too busy, she goes to our supervisor (her husband) and he tells us to do what she says.
We have tried talking to our supervisor, but it gets us in more trouble. We even approached our supervisors boss, who is the Director of Nursing. She said that we should not come to her, that we did not follow the chain of command, and that all problems in the lab are to be handled by our supervisor. The administrative staff seems to be in full support of our supervisor and his wife. They attend administration functions together, as well as dining out with the administrator.There are no other jobs in our area, and the three closest labs are owned by the same corporation and have little turnover. We have now lost two techs that had been here 10+ years, and the rest have been searching for new jobs. We feel we deserve a professional work environment. What, if anything, can we do?A:Alton Sturtevant advises, If you feel as strongly about
the situation as you seem to, take the advice of the Director of Nursing and follow the chain of command. Go to the next level of authority and make them aware of the problem.
Another approach is to speak to another department head, that you can trust, who may be able to advise you or even speak with a higher authority to address the situation on your behalf. From your description, the situation should be obvious to those in authority, and they are either choosing to ignore it or do not realize its full impact on the laboratory.Larry Crolla asks, Have you tried talking to someone in human resources? Check to see if the corporation has a policy that disallows someone supervising their own relatives. Most large corporations do. If this is the case, ask HR to enforce company policy, since not doing so has had adverse effects on the laboratory. If there is no such policy, and if HR wont act on the situation after you point out that the turnover rate is much larger than at the other institutions in the area (I assume this is the case from your description), you have to make a decision about how long you are going to stay on board.According to Marti Bailey, In a lot of companies, there are policies in place that prohibit this very thing a person supervising a relative from happening. Either there is no such policy in effect, or there is one and it is not being enforced. You have already tried bringing the problem to the attention of both your supervisor and his boss and both defaulted. It appears from your letter, however, that you have not yet tried to solve the problem with the source. But you need to understand your own feelings and motives before you attempt this route. Ask yourself the following questions:Are you sure that the rest of the staff does not treat the supervisors wife any differently?Are you certain there is no underlying resentment toward her because of the extramarital affair that has moved her into this position, closer to the boss than the rest of the staff?Are you sure that no one else besides this one person is criticizing without being constructive?If any of your other co-workers ask you to do something else, would you take this as negatively as when your supervisors wife asks?Ms. Bailey adds, I do not know how many workers are in your group, but if you all feel the same way, you have sheer numbers on your side. I know that people generally do not like to confront their co-workers, but if you do it in the right way, this could be your best chance for resolution. Each of you needs to deal with her directly and consistently at the time these unpleasant encounters occur. When the supervisors wife criticizes your work, you need to confront her with the way it makes you feel when she does this. Remember not to attack the person, but instead to emphasize how her behavior makes you feel. Point out to her that none of the rest of the group criticizes without being constructive, and you would like her to do the same.If you deal with her in a positive way without attacking the person, shell have nothing negative to report to her husband. When she approaches you to do something else, if you can do it, then by all means do so. Why make an issue? If you cannot, tell her that you will help her check to see if someone else is available. If all of you tell her and show her by good example how you want to be treated, the odds are in your favor that she will find it more desirable to deal with the group rather than running off to her husband for help.Bottom line. First, make certain that policy is being followed in allowing a supervisor to provide direct management to ones spouse. Then, answer the questions that Marti Bailey asks. When the supervisors wife criticizes your work, confront her with the way it makes you feel when she does this. If none of this works, you may have to make a choice between staying and looking elsewhere.Christopher S. Frings is an internationally known consultant and speaker on the topics of leadership, managing change, time management, reaching goals, and stress management. His consulting firm, Chris Frings & Associates, is in Birmingham, AL.                                                                            
June 2003: Vol. 35, No. 6
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