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Overwhelm. We’ve all been there. As entrepreneurs, we’ve all felt buried by our workloads, unsure of how we’ll ever dig out. (Hopefully, those days are now behind you.)
I’ll keep today’s intro short. Jay Bacrania, one of our Growth consultants, has put together a framework for dealing with employee overwhelm.
People are your most important asset—they make up who your company is and what your company does—so when a leader feels stressed out, you want to address it ASAP. Here’s Jay:
When an employee tells you they’re overwhelmed, how do you respond?
I’ve heard client team members share that they’re spinning out, don’t know what to work on next, and feel like they can’t make any progress. As the business owner, the best thing you can do in those situations is identify the root cause of the issue they’re having.
Consider these key factors as you dig into the problem:
Factor 1: Expectations for the role.
If someone is overwhelmed, the first question to ask is: do they have too much to do? If there are unreasonable expectations for what a team member can accomplish, you’re setting them up for disappointment and unnecessary stress.
Assuming you have a well-laid out org chart—ideally something that details responsibilities for each role—revisit it to see if the expectations for the role are reasonable. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:
A team member may currently sit in multiple seats. Make sure your review captures the entirety of their workload across all company functions.
The role may balloon over time. Has the role expanded to include additional responsibilities? That often happens as companies grow.
If you find a lack of clarity, or that there’s clarity but that the role has gotten too big, you can take action from there. Start looking at what can be eliminated or delegated away.
Factor 2: The team member in front of you.
If the role is clear, and there should be enough time to manage it, then look at the team member in front of you: is the root cause the person in the seat?
Your employee may be capable of doing the work but struggles to manage their time, prioritize the right projects, or stay organized—all what are known as executive function skills. Likewise, your employee may be setting their own expectations too high or taking on too much. Coaching or specific skill building can be a good next step in these circumstances.
Factor 3: Direct reports/management.
When your employees have direct reports, their management responsibilities may eat up more time than is appropriate. There’s tons of overwhelm associated with managing people. Seven direct reports is the standard maximum any one team member should have.
And if those direct reports aren’t getting the job done or facing challenges of their own? Your overwhelmed team lead is probably picking up the slack. Likewise if there are positions that need to be filled but are currently empty. You may need to dig deeper into your orgnaization to identify the root cause when management is part of the overwhelm issue.
Factor 4: Business model.
Sometimes you might be operating in an environment where resources are scarce, and there’s not enough profit to make additional hires. The numbers don’t justify hiring, but the team members picking up the slack tell a different story: they feel squeezed by the lack of resources.
Business model also comes into play when a team member needs to be highly responsive in some aspects of their role (e.g., pick up the phone, respond to emails quickly, answer ongoing questions from the team all day) but also needs time to do focused, uninterrupted work. The model puts aspects of their role at odds with one another, which creates conflict and stress.
Factor 5: Company culture.
Your organization may have inadvertently developed a culture where people fall down too many rabbit holes and struggle to stay focused. Or where long meetings and discussions are the norm (but not accounted for when considering individual roles). Ro a lack of trust that can breed all sorts of issues.
Take some time to observe, not just the core values you have documented, but what you see from your team on a regular basis. Is your culture somehow impeding this person's ability to get work done?
If you have a leader experiencing overwhelm, it’s important to take it seriously. Investigate these factors with an open mind—there’s likely much you don't know about the day to day workings of your organization. If the cause lies with your team member’s executive function skills (more likely in mature organizations with thoughtfully-defined roles), a little training can go a long way to support them.
Jay decided to join Crews Consulting Group after working with Founder Eric Crews and experiencing an operational and management transformation inside his own company. Jay is the Owner and CEO of Signet Education, a boutique educational services company that has provided academic mentorship to thousands of students since 2005. His organization has become one of the premier tutoring companies in the United States, with a reputation for quality and excellence.
After spending years reverse engineering processes and tools to run a better business, Jay discovered the Entrepreneurial Operating System (EOS). With Eric’s guidance, he implemented EOS into his organization. A natural teacher and coach, Jay took the next step of sharing EOS with other business owners by becoming an EOS Implementer in 2019. While Jay has a great love of EOS, he was more than ready to help Crews Consulting Group build its own proprietary business operating system, GROWTH, to help clients achieve even greater success.
As a GROWTH consultant, Jay brings a wealth of experience to the table: he has spent over a decade running Signet Education and over two decades mentoring students and families. He loves working with entrepreneurial teams to navigate challenges and grow their organizations. No two days are ever quite the same, and he’s experienced for himself the ability of a well-run business to shape people’s lives in a personal and meaningful way.
Jay holds a Bachelor’s degree from Harvard College and attended Berklee College of Music on a full scholarship for jazz performance (trumpet).