Real attention

In the past, if my boss called to ask if I could pop in for a meeting, I would drop everything. That appointment with my colleague would have to wait. Is not your boss the most important person in the organisation? Now I know, I couldn't have been more wrong. Employees need just as much attention as bosses, maybe even more. Luckily, in recent years, I have seen more companies with whom I work being aware of this.

But awareness and acting upon it, is a bit different. Recently, someone shared a story from a colleague who had to wait an hour because his manager had first ad-hoc things to do. The colleague was now used to seeing meetings cancelled at the last minute. He also experienced it as demotivating in a meeting that he could seldom count on his manager's full attention. He was answering his phone during this meeting.

My motto is that sincere attention makes the difference. This motto forces me to make choices. To make sure I make room in my diary for ad-hoc situations so that they are not at the expense of appointments with colleagues. You can always say that it happened because of another person or situation but ultimately you make your own choices.

I can still well remember an anecdote from the time I was a director. My boss called me one afternoon if I could come along for a meeting. I said I would be pleased to do so but I could only allocate time for him the following morning. It became quiet at the other end, an awkward silence. Slightly irritated, my boss asked: "Why do you have no time for me?"

I told him I was giving priority to a pre-arranged meeting with my colleague who needed answers before he could proceed further with his project. I said: "I won't cancel it because he is important to me and to the organisation." It went quiet again for a bit and then, in a little more understanding tone: "Fine, carry on doing what you were doing, I'll speak to you tomorrow."

Of course, sometimes there are situations when you can't do anything about it and your planning is thrown upside-down at the expense of your appointments.

But, when sitting together with your colleague, what you have to make sure of is to give him your full attention: telephone switched off, not "just" going off to ask someone something, but give absolute attention. In this way you let your employees feel that you find them really important in your organisation. Your employees are the beating heart of the organisation, not the boss.

Moniek van Rheenen-Schreurs