There are 2 effective ways to handle excessive workload – prioritize it by adjusting deadlines or hire more staff to finish projects in the assigned time frame. Prioritization is the less expensive and easier option to sell in but the more difficult to implement. It pushes pain and additional responsibility onto either clients or upper managers or both.
In theory it’s a simple process. You track all assignments that are currently being handled by your team, find those projects with competing schedules and deadlines and, by either working with clients directly or having an upper manager do the same, determine which projects will be worked on first and which will have their deadlines pushed out. The criteria should include, the project’s financial, legal and regulatory importance, how long it will take to complete the assignment, the importance of the client and whether the project is part of an event with a fixed schedule.
In reality, few clients will be magnanimous enough to go to the back of the line voluntarily. This means either you or another individual – most likely your manager – will have to tell the clients whose projects will be worked on first and whose will be placed on the back burner.
It’s best to approach your manager first to present the challenge you and your team are facing. Asking for her advice and support, you should offer up options on how to best address the situation. The 2 options should include either the manager informing your clients that you will be empowered to prioritize workload or that she will work directly with your clients. This should be posed to your boss as an either/or proposition with no room for your manager to wiggle out of making this tough decision. In essence you should let your boss know that if she doesn’t give you a definitive answer, that you will prioritize the projects and refer all clients to her to address their concerns as they arise (which will be immediately).
It’s in your best interest to have your manager deal with your clients directly for 2 reasons. First, it keeps you from having to be the bad guy and allows you to maintain the kind of positive relationships with your clients that are crucial to your and your team’s success. Second, your clients may be inclined to go to an outside vendor. If your manager or their manager contacts your clients, they will have a better chance of convincing your clients that taking the work to an outside agency should only be considered in extreme circumstances.
If you determine that prioritization is the best way to avoid “the set up” then you should tailor your approach using the broad-stroke strategy noted above as a basic guide and stay focused on the issue until you achieve the desired results.