A crowd panicking in black and white

Panic Managing

It’s quarter after nine in the morning and you’re just getting into the morning groove when it happens. In the very moment that you become aware of how eerily quiet and still the room has become your manager is standing next to you with a look you’ve come to know all too well–wide eyes, knuckles white around the handle of his coffee mug, flushed skin–his voice is just slightly higher pitched than normal as he starts to speak. He conveys to you today’s first emergency.

Just like that, your day is shot.

I call them Panic Monkeys, and if you haven’t had a Panic Monkey manager then you almost certainly have witnessed from the sidelines the devastation they bring with them as they swing from critical-issue vine to critical-issue vine leaving terror and stress in their wake.

Panic Monkeys have made the decision to use the energy that is generated by a catastrophe to spur them and others into working. Unfortunately, the economy of disasters rapidly catches up to them. As I’m fond of telling them, if everything is an emergency, nothing is an emergency. It does not take long for one of several issues to catch up with them.

If they’re lucky, the fact that they are constantly crying wolf about pressing issues leads the team around them to ignore the manufactured urgency. If they are less fortunate, the team around them burns out through prolonged exposure to the sort of stresses that emergencies create. I have witnessed teams flame out to the point of mass quitting over the stresses created by a Panic Monkey.

If you are having difficulty motivating a team without artificial conflict, consider talking to successful managers around you to help you de-escalate the situation. Learning how to earn the effort of your team in an organic, productive, and healthy manner will go a long way toward lowering turnover, maintaining a constructive work environment, and having energy available for handling work’s real emergencies when they arise.