When you’re working in a turnaround situation, resources are constantly scarce. One of the consequences is that you always seem to be working on tasks that are “urgent and unimportant.” Unimportant, in light of the fact that the building is burning down around us. The phrase comes from something called the Urgent/Important Matrix. This particular article calls these tasks “interruptions,” which is truly apt. I’m spending hours of my day on lame but necessary items that need to be done right now. In normal circumstances there would be someone on the team to whom a senior manager could delegate such tasks. But these are not normal circumstances. To combat the onslaught, I spend most mornings on the phone with clients doing the kind of shovel work that has a chance to build a new foundation for the firm. But when I’m doing the important and urgent work, the unimportant stuff is sitting there like a monkey on my back. It’s hard to stay motivated when the four page To Do list and the 200 emails are staring back.
We are conditioned towards winning. John Hodgman jokes that his books cover all areas of knowledge–except for sports. He then refers readers to every other aspect of our culture for information on sports. Sports is the arena where our Id and Superego get free reign. A manager in one of the Baseball Championship Series games remarked the other night, “I’m not looking ahead. We have to win THIS game.” Winning and losing. It is what we are all about.
Working for a company trying to accomplish a turnaround is tough. I want to go to work in a place where we’re all winners. What joy it must be to work at Google right now. If you can get in. A friend of mine went for an interview there and the way she described it made it sound like a vacation on that island in The Lord of the Flies. But nevermind–to be inside of Google must be amazing. They’re top dogs. Piston Cup winners. Jedi.
I have totally imbibed the winner-take-all ideology. When you work for a turnaround, it’s an effort to wake up everyday. As my co-worker says, “you feel like you’re wearing cinderblock shoes.” You say to yourself, “I must be a loser to be working for a turnaround company.” But there’s a little voice in the back of your head pushing you forward. You can start to see past the million and one projects ahead of you and the four page to-do list. There’s a spark of hope that you CAN turn this thing around. Your sheer effort might make a difference. There is still hope. You might win.