What's your problem?

CAN I REMAIN ACCESSIBLE AND DO MY OWN WORK? I have always kept an open-door policy at work and encourage my direct reports to talk to me whenever they need to. Recently, the number of staff reporting directly to me has increased, and I'm finding it really difficult to get on with my own work with all the interruptions.

by Jeremy Bullmore
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Unfortunately, I've been told by my staff that what they like best about my management style is that I'm always available, unlike some of the other managers. How can I cut down on my 'availability time' without seeming to be letting them all down?

A: It's a familiar problem, this, and in some ways it's one of the penalties of success. The simple, management-guru solution would obviously be for you to cut down on your number of direct reports. I'm sure there's a magic number somewhere that according to the textbooks is supposed to deliver optimal managerial efficiency and time-utilisation.

But in your case, availability is clearly a key part of your operating style and it seems to be appreciated. So I think what you should do is come absolutely clean with all your people. Tell them exactly what you've told me: unless you have some unencroachable time of your own, you'll have to change your way of working. Rather than operate an appointments-only system, you intend from now on to have red times and green times. You'll know which they should be and what proportion of the day they should occupy; but they must be widely understood and strictly stuck to.

At green times, everyone's as welcome as ever; at red times, it's crisis cases only. I think that should work for you. But please, as well, undertake a piece of ruthless self-examination. Satisfy yourself that you're not spending more time than you need with your people because it flatters your vanity to do so - and sets you apart from the other managers.

Please address your problems to Jeremy Bullmore at: Management Today, 174 Hammersmith Road, London W6 7JP. Or e-mail: management.today@haynet.com Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.

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