We have all been there. For whatever reason we are facing a spike on the demands placed on our business.
Maybe we closed some or even many new accounts. Perhaps we are in the middle of upgrading our infrastructure, and we need to run parallel systems for a while. Maybe one of our projects ran off the rails and serious attention is needed to get things right.
Whatever the reason, demands on the business and the people that run it have spiked. There are three levers to get more work done.
Adding capacity or additional employees usually isn't the first lever leaders activate. That's because there's a delay between the time a leader calls for additional capacity and the time the new capacity is capable of being utilized due to the time it takes to recruit, interview, hire, and place.
The second lever, increasing efficiencies, can help increase capacity. But there's a delay between when a leader calls for efficiency and when that enhanced efficiency manifests.
The lever of choice is usually to increase usage because there's almost no delay in implementation. "I need this report on my desk by Monday at 10 a.m. Work the weekend if you must." Boom. Instantly you address the spike in demand. However, you must be careful in servicing demand spikes by increasing usage.
This immediate gratification can lead to an over-dependence and even addiction to using increased utilization to deal with demand spikes, which can lead to an overtaxed workforce. A recent study found that 95 percent of human resource leaders felt employee burnout sabotaged retention.
How well are you dealing with surges in demand? Do you see the three levers in front of you, and have you mastered the optimal way to adjust each lever to prevent burnout?
Here are three tips I have learned from those who I think are the best at managing surges in demand. Master these and you will know how to generate the most force projection without redlining the system and overheating it.
1. Consider how long the increased demand will last.
When faced with a demand spike, the first thing you should ask yourself is; How long will this surge last? Is it a one-off or is it the new normal? High demand on your workforce should be a temporary solution until more structural enhancements to capacity and efficiency are in place.
If the surge is the new normal, you will need to increase usage to service the immediate demand and concurrently either increase capacity or increase efficiency or some combination of both. The rookie error is not recognizing the new normal and misusing a temporary fix as a permanent solution.
2. Communicate with your employees.
Whether the surge in demand is temporary or the new normal, communicate with employees about what is happening and why and make your expectations clear to those impacted. Discuss what has happened that necessitates more time and resources and the expected duration of the surge.
Managers should do regular pulse checks with individuals and watch out for fatigue or burnout, which may lead to increased mistakes, absenteeism, loss of interest in the work, or a tense work environment.
3. Recognize when fatigue sets in.
Initially, adrenaline and passion will fuel these efforts. If the work seems important to those involved and the skills required are specialized, people will generally tolerate a longer duration of higher than normal demands on their time. Stress fractures and unforced errors typically begin to manifest when the demand on employees remains high and the adrenaline production systems begin to tap out.
Try to prevent or limit fatigue by designing rotations to give people cooling off time while relentlessly pursuing increased efficiency. If signs point toward this being the new normal, be prepared to increase budgets to pay for additional permanent capacity or risk losing quality of work or possibly employees.
The key takeaway here: You need to know when and how to use all three levers to meet surges in demand. They're literally your company's tachometer and temperature gauge.