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The Tyranny of the Urgent

By: Bill Bleuel


The Tyranny of the Urgent

I have a somewhat unusual combination of education and job experience. I think I am one of the few college professors who have worked in industry as a service manager in a line management position. From that background, I have had the opportunity to consult with a number of service managers in the computer industry. In all of my consulting perhaps the most common problem I see with service managers is what I call the “tyranny of the urgent.” I am sure that the phrase “tyranny of the urgent” has been used many times I am not the creator of this phrase but a firm believer in it. I believe it is a phrase that accurately captures the business of service today

Before I became a service manager with line management responsibility I would drink one or two cups of coffee a day. Within 6 months of becoming a line manager, I was drinking six to eight cups a day. I always had a cup of coffee in my hand. There was always something going on that demanded my attention. I am not sure if I got more of a rush from the adrenaline of urgent activities or caffeine. A customer would be down and there would be no one available in the field or the call might come from the President of the company that he just received a call from a customer and thought I should look into the matter.

Urgency is a way of life in the service business. We never seem to get involved until things aren’t working right or the customer is in trouble or the new product that was shipped has a design error that has to be fixed at the customer site. With all of these activities crying for our attention, we become experts at handling the urgent.

It is ironic that this urgency can become a personal dictator if we let it. This is the “tyranny of the urgent.” The sooner you recognize it, the sooner you can stop it. In a way, urgent activities are good because we can get an immediate “attaboy” when we finish them. Most of us get great satisfaction from “attaboys” and thus the cycle begins. Perhaps that is what led us into the service profession. I have seen service managers thrive on constant crisis. They are not happy unless they have all of their employees working as hard as possible, a stack of calls to return (ASAP) and negotiations going on for credit on out-of-warranty returned goods.

On the other hand, there are activities that can best be described as important rather than urgent. Spending time strictly on urgent matters will not improve the performance of the service organization. It is only when time is spent on important activities (such as service planning, training, and teambuilding) that improvements can be designed and implemented which will lead to a better service organization.

The bottom line is that those urgent activities come and go, but never diminish in number or intensity. This is the nature of the business of service. Unfortunately, that is not the only nature of our business. There is another type of activity in our business – IMPORTANT activities. All of our business activities can generally be classified into one of these two groups, but usually not into both. Success comes to service when both urgent and important activities are well-managed.

Published: February 13, 2020

Source: The Customer Institute

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Bill Bleuel

Dr. Bill Bleuel is an award-winning Professor of Decision Sciences at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and Management. Dr. Bleuel’s expertise lies in the quantitative aspects of business. He specializes in the measurement and analysis of operations, customer satisfaction, customer loyalty and customer retention. He has held senior positions in engineering, marketing and service management at Xerox, Taylor Instrument Company and Barber Colman Company. Dr. Bleuel has also experience as general manager in two start-up companies that he co-founded.

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