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: firstname.lastname@example.org Regrettably, no correspondence can be entered into.