Once you have set expectations and quickly acknowledged your colleagues outreach, you need to keep your colleagues updated on the status of their outreach.
You may not have started working on it yet, or you just started working on it and you aren’t ready to respond, or you have been working on it a lot and you don’t have a response yet. By keeping your colleagues updated, you will benefit in the following ways:
– You continue to manage expectations that reflect your calendar and workload.
– You continue to reduce some of the frustration that your colleagues may experience as time passes without a next step or conclusion.
– You provide your colleagues the information and opportunity to change how they are working to satisfy their outreach. For example, your colleagues may decide to speak to someone else to get a resolution.
There is a big difference between acknowledging an outreach and providing an answer to the outreach. You may not have the answer or you may not have the time to provide the answer at that moment. Regardless of the situation and in order to help your colleagues make progress, you do need to acknowledge them. By acknowledging receipt of an email or a phone message, you will benefit in the following ways:
– You ensure that your colleagues know that you received the message, reducing the likelihood that your colleagues will send another email looking for an update or call again to confirm that you received the message in the first place.
– You are able to set new expectations that reflect your calendar and workload.
– You reduce some of the frustration that your colleagues may experience as time passes without a response.
What does “quickly” mean? Regardless of whether it was Plato or Shakespeare who popularized the often quoted “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder,” quickness is also in the eye of the beholder. Attempting to meet all of your colleagues’ expectations for quickness is as unlikely as all of your colleagues thinking the outfit you have on today looks “fantastic!” Your goal is to set an expectation that you can follow consistently so your colleagues know what to expect from you.
If you can’t commit to the “24-hour rule,” (don’t commit to something you cannot fulfill) the next best strategy to set expectations around response time is the “24/48/72” model. Regardless of the number of daily outreaches you receive, you should respond to the majority of colleagues within 24 hours, and you should have contacted the vast majority of them within 72 hours. This does not mean all of the topics have been resolved; this means you have contacted them in order to keep things moving.
Although you cannot control the number of inbound outreaches to you, you can set expectations regarding how your colleagues will hear back from you. Expectations are the boundaries you create which reflect your unique style, calendar and workload. Here are some ways to set expectations/boundaries with your colleagues:
– Establish, communicate, and honor a 24-hour response rule where you say in your emails and voicemails that you will respond to your colleagues within 24 hours of your receipt of their outreach. It is generally understood that this means Monday if the message is left from Friday to Sunday.
– Schedule time on your calendar specifically to respond to voicemails and emails.
– Utilize the “out-of-office” functionality embedded in your email system when you know you will be unable to access email or voicemail (i.e., you are attending a three-day offsite meeting or you are on vacation), and ensure you include when you will be returning to the office, when you will be able to start responding to outreaches you have received, and the name, phone number and email address of an individual your colleagues can reach during your absence
– Update your voicemail to let your colleagues know that you are out of the office, when you will be returning, and who they can contact in your absence if they have an urgent need.
You may feel that you should not respond to colleagues until you have the answer to their questions or requests. You may assume that others know you are working on their problem and you don’t feel a need to keep them updated. You may rationalize that you are so busy, you don’t have time to get back to anyone other than your boss.
While these are reasonable perspectives, days could go by before you have an answer (especially if you are dependent on others for information) and colleagues who originally reached out to you may feel forgotten. Without a response or an update, your colleagues are unsure if you received their email or if you are working on their request at all, allowing frustration to grow and progress to stall.
Harry Ebbighausen, a former President at Iron Mountain Incorporated has mastered the ability to be highly responsive. Despite his voluminous workload and hectic travel schedule supporting a $3 billion enterprise, Harry possesses a reputation throughout Iron Mountain and the records management industry as an person who “gets back to everyone,” whether the individual reaching out to him is a fellow executive or a truck driver at a distant facility.
Harry’s reasons for being responsive are clear. “It’s a matter of respect,” says Harry. “If a colleague or an employee is taking the time to reach out to you, there must be a good reason. You demonstrate respect to others by responding to their outreach as quickly as you can.” At the same time, “if you don’t respond to others quickly, they will either not reach out to you again or fill-in their own answer to their problem. Sometimes, it may not be a good answer.”