As a Place Manager, you’ve probably heard or may even have said the following expression:
“It’s just like spinning plates”.
Sound familiar? If you work in Place Management, I’m sure it does.
It’s a statement we usually make as a reference to feeling under pressure because of having too many things to do at the same time or having to manage too many competing priorities. Pressure of this nature often stems from complex management responsibilities and there can be few roles which are as multi-faceted, multi-skilled and carry as much varied responsibility as those performed by Place Managers.
And I highlight the theatrical references of “role” and “performance” intentionally to illustrate the comparison to the old Music Hall act from where the expression arises. This act would involve a performer spinning an ever-increasing number of plates on top of tall canes and gradually having to dash faster and faster across the stage in order to prevent any of the plates crashing to the stage floor. All in the name of entertainment. The act was often a solo performance, another comparison to many Place Management roles.
All that was at stake for the stage performer in the event of failure was the possibility of some broken crockery, a degree of professional embarrassment and at worst a few boos from a disgruntled audience. But what’s at stake for Place Managers is potentially much more damaging.
Irrespective of where and how you ply your profession; be it for a local authority, working for a BID or running your own consultancy, the pressures and responsibilities in place management can be enormous.
Managing stakeholders from a wide and diverse range of organisations, each with an equally wide and diverse range of business (and sometimes personal) objectives along with managing large budgets, trying to stretch small budgets, and juggling numerous and often frequently changing deadlines is all part of a typical week for a place manager.
Managing these pressures whilst at the same time trying to remain calm and professional is a massive challenge. And what’s at stake for the place manager compared to the music hall performer when the metaphorical plates start to fall is something far more serious than a few boos and broken crockery.
A missed deadline could mean a major project being delayed or worse still failing completely. A disgruntled stakeholder, a budgeting error or a forgotten meeting are all evidence of place management “plates” falling to the floor, increasing the pressure on the Place Manager. From a professional point of view people may start to question their competence and ability, they might even start to question it themselves. However, the potential ripple-effect and the resulting anxiety of not keeping all of the plates spinning can have a devastating personal effect on the Place Manager as an individual in terms of their psychological and physical wellbeing.
Work-related stress is now one of the biggest threats to modern business and one of the largest causes of absence from work. A recent survey suggested that 30% of place managers perceive themselves to have experienced severe levels of work-related stress in the previous 12 months. Prolonged stress of this nature inevitably results in a reduction in wellbeing, sometimes resulting in long-term serious illness, and often causes wider reaching problems such as relationship difficulties. People experiencing long periods of heightened stress often turn to harmful coping strategies to get them through in the hope that things will soon improve, for example working longer hours, not taking holidays and increased alcohol consumption. Such strategies and others like them over time only add to the difficulties.
Pressure to get the job done, worries about job loss and professional insecurity often drive the individual to try and keep all of the plates spinning.
If this all sounds familiar don’t become that person. You don’t have to keep all of the plates spinning but neither do you need to let any of them crash to the ground. Unlike the stage performer you have another option. Don’t keep running from plate to plate trying to keep them all going. Instead stand back and take a look at each one and decide what plates you can simply walk over to and take off and, for the time being at least, place on the floor in one piece. It can be done, there are always some tasks that can be deferred and become a lower priority and if you truly believe that isn’t possible in your role then talk to someone about it. Now.
Discussing your work-related stress and pressures with an understanding line manager or colleague is the first step toward making everything more manageable. If that isn’t possible then talk to an external coach or mentor. Just by simply starting that dialogue you will begin to see things more clearly. Taking a step back and looking at the big picture and discussing it with a trusted colleague or professional coach/mentor will very quickly help you to rationalise and ultimately manage your workload and priorities more effectively and ultimately start to reduce your levels of work related stress.
Remember, as a place manager don’t be a solo plate spinner, share the load.
Martin Ousley is an Associate with Heartflood Ltd and a highly experienced and qualified Coaching Psychologist specialising in work-related stress. Heartflood provides coaching and mentoring services to place managers.