Confused Lost Road Signs

OK, I admit it:  I’m a planner.  I’ve found that it’s the only way that I can accomplish all my goals without burning out…or going a little crazy.

But not all people plan before they take action.  Some leaders not only change the steps, but even change the ultimate goal — all with little warning to those who must act upon their changes.

While planning can dissolve into paralysis by analysis, planning remains one of the fundamental competencies for highly functioning managers.

When managers refuse to plan, their subordinates often receive sketchy or even wrong information — information upon which they depend in order to do their jobs well.  When managers create chaos, it changes the priorities and schedules of everyone around them by turning important things into important and urgent crises.  (Thanks, Stephen Covey for this insight!)

Planning is a critical tool in avoiding and overcoming burnout.  But managers alone are not to blame.

Although this has been said before, it bears repeating:  organizational leaders, middle managers, line supervisors, and front-line workers all need to learn how to plan their work so that they can seamlessly work their plan.

When workers must scramble to complete a project as a result of someone else’s disorganization, it disintegrates the level of trust and creates frustration and resentment.  When workers believe that they have no control over how they do their work, they will often seriously consider where they are working.  This type of turnover can be directly attributable to the downward spiral of burnout resulting from poor planning.

While changes can and will happen, many workplace crises can be avoided — and, by avoiding these crises, burnout can be minimized and employee engagement can be enhanced.

To prevent foreseeable crises due to poor planning, consider my 10 tips on responding to chaos created by someone else’s disorganization:

  1. Keep your priorities.  Instead of throwing the baby out with the bath water, determine which projects are (a) the most critical and (b) have the closest due dates.  Reschedule everything else.  This prevents one crisis from snowballing into an avalanche.
  2. Check with at least 2 authority figures if something is missing or feels wrong.  Don’t rely on just one answer.  Of course, this can make the original person whom you ask somewhat miffed, but you don’t want to be in a situation that causes additional stress to either you or the people who are depending on you.
  3. Be a pest. This follows the previous point – keep asking questions if your instincts tell you that the answer you received is wrong.
  4. Be honest with the people who are depending on you.  Immediately notify those who are directly affected by any changes and confusion — then ask for their patience.  The result can be quite positive and even exert somewhat of a bonding effect on coworkers because “we’re all in this together.”
  5. Be honest with the people who will be the victims of the trickle down effect.  Once you’ve notified those who are directly affected by the changes or chaos, expand to notify those who are indirectly affected.  Once again, the result can be quite positive.  Keeping silence can be deadly.
  6. Use more than one way to continue contacting the people who are depending on you.  Be sure to use different communication channels.  Ideally, you should already be aware of the channel that your employees tend to check most frequently — then use them along with other channels.  The goal is to avoid the changes or potential chaos from being communicated via an office grapevine (which will often provide inaccurate or incomplete information that generally creates greater chaos).
  7. Take a break.  Unforeseen crises generally require additional extra, unplanned work hours — but don’t attempt to get it all done by doing an all-nighter.  (Unless you’re a 19-year-old college students, most workers will be zombies for a few days after and then can’t accomplish anything else!)  Continuing to push when you’re exhausted creates not only a shoddy result, but can exacerbate feelings of burnout.
  8. Don’t get angry.  I know that this is easier said than done — especially when your organization has a pattern of “unforeseen” crises.  But anger is the second stage in the burnout death spiral.  Instead, take a few deep breaths and concentrate on the light at the end of the tunnel.  Burning out will only make and your team less effective and productive.
  9. Celebrate when you’re done.  Once the crisis is averted, it’s time for a little celebration AND recognition of the hard, unanticipated work that your team exerted.  Don’t just go on to the next project!
  10. Learn the lesson.  Once you’ve recognized the accomplishments of your team, schedule a brainstorming session on how to avoid such crises in the future.  Some organizations are notoriously disorganized, while others may be suffering from a temporary glitch.  Investigate in order to understand the cultural factors contributing to the organization — then keep these in mind when planning future projects.

Dr. Geri Puleo, SPHR, is the President and CEO of Change Management Solutions, Inc., an eLearning and Coaching company focused on eradicating workplace burnout through the B-DOC Model.  An entrepreneur for over 25 years, keynote speaker, author, blogger, business coach, university professor, and researcher, you can see her “in action” by watching her TEDx Talk on YouTube.  To contact Dr. Puleo, please go to

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