The Pressure Cooker

Are you feeling the pressure? Are the constant deadlines, competing priorities, excessive workload, longer hours, frazzled nerves, testy co-workers, etc., driving you nuts?

A Recipe for Trouble

Many businesses are responding to the currently difficult economic and competitive conditions by engaging in a frenzy of activity, much of which is non-productive. Simultaneously, they’re attempting to: cut costs, increase profits, reduce payroll, gain productivity, improve competitive position, increase market share, maintain customer base, and a host of other initiatives. Of course, all of this needs to be accomplished immediately, if not sooner.

The precipitating factor for all of this is, reportedly, the economic meltdown that began in 2008. But businesses, in general, have been becoming less stable, more reactive, and less forward thinking for years. Long-range planning, strategic direction, participative management, methodical analysis, and all too often, caution have been “thrown to the wind.”

A Cooking Lesson

Pressure cookers tenderize their contents, often a stew, by subjecting the contents (ingredients) to significant heat, steam, and pressure over a period of time until the contents break down and become tender. This concept can be extended, by analogy, to the workplace where the ingredients are somewhat more fragile-the employees.

A Remedy

Police, firefighters, and other first-responders understand that the first steps in controlling a chaotic or dangerous situation are to assess the situation, and “stop the action” (i.e., containment). This is necessary to neutralize the situation and to bring people, emotions and activities down to a manageable level so that rational remedies can be initiated. If the emergency personnel were to succumb to the chaos, they would lose their ability to solve the problem. They must “stop the action” to get organized, gain control, and identify solutions. Of course, they’re trained to handle emergencies and to think rationally under pressure. Most managers are not.

For many years business executives have arranged to attend “retreats,” where they could remove themselves from the day-to-day pressures and responsibilities and, hopefully, gain some perspective, balance, and restoration of positive energy. But the ability and willingness to “retreat” has been compromised by the unrelenting pressure at work. Of course, when we’re not immersed in the problems, we intuitively recognize that continuing to “fire fight” is ultimately counter productive. Similar to gaining control of a massive forest fire, it requires methodical plans, coordinated activities, substantial resources and professional leadership.

Some Insights and Suggestions

We can all learn better ways of dealing with crisis. We can regain our sensibilities and perspective if we just remember to not be so afraid, overwhelmed, and intimidated by circumstances. In business most situations are not “life-threatening” –important, yes, but not imminent danger to life and limb. Act accordingly, and learn the lessons from people who deal with “real” emergencies every day. First assess the circumstances, then “stop the action,” stabilize the situation, protect yourself and others from harm. Then initiate corrective actions, call for “back up” if needed, gather the facts and information, and calmly proceed with problem resolution. Don’t make others around you crazy by buying into the hysteria; demonstrate your poise as a leader, inspire confidence, and get on with the business of solving problems and making rational plans for the future. A “pressure cooker” belongs in the kitchen, not the office.

Copyright ©, 2009, Dr. Ben A. Carlsen, MBA. All Rights Reserved Worldwide for all Media. You may reprint this article in your ezine, newsletter, newspaper, magazine, website, etc. as long as you leave all of the links active, do not edit the article in any way, leave my name and bio box intact, and you follow all of the EzineArticles Terms of Service for Publishers.