Urgent or Important


You recently wrote a staff memorandum that provides guidance on a new procedure. It was reviewed for grammatical and typographical errors using a word processor. The document looks great and you email it out to the team. 

But your employees did not follow the guidance. But why? The message was sent and you even received return receipts from each employee. What happened? Did they even read it? Did it get trapped in their spam folder? Are you a bad manager?

I have a scarier explanation: it was not a priority for them and you failed to communicate its importance and/or urgency to them. You failed to let them know the priority level.

It is up to you as a manager to explain the level of importance and urgency. In addition, you are responsible for communicating effectively to your staff. Perhaps you are confused on how to assign a priority. Below is a table contrasting urgency from importance. 

Not Important and Not Urgent Urgent but Not Important
Urgent and Important Not Urgent but Important

Let’s discuss in detail each category.

Not Important and Not Urgent

Actions that can be done during moments of downtime. Examples include relabeling file cabinets or moving office furniture.

Not Urgent but Important

These are important actions to do but not mission-critical. Dates or milestones are included because the action needs to be completed by a certain time. Examples include restocking office supplies, updating schedule information, or projecting future business activities. 

Urgent but Non-Important

Periodic events that demand immediate action. Examples include participating in evaluation drills or COOP (continuity of operations) plans.

Urgent and Important

Actions that have immense consequence if not responded to in a quick manner. These activities are done “Johnny on the spot” or immediately when the request to act is made. Examples include threats of severe harm to a building and its inhabitants. 

What happens to the staff when everything is deemed urgent? They become anesthetized to your cries of urgency.

When to Hit the Panic Button

Managers, your staff will not understand the level of importance unless you communicate it to them. Also, selectively determine what qualifies an urgent event. I remember when I worked in FEMA, everything was a “Hair on Fire Event.”

What happens to the staff when everything is deemed urgent? They become anesthetized to your cries of urgency. The staff will neither take you nor your concerns seriously. Cynicism will build and the unfortunate few who believe everything is borderline catastrophic become anxiety prone.

On the other hand, what happens when nothing is urgent or important? Ironically, the same thing occurs in the “Hair on Fire Event.” You grow a slacker environment. Cynicism also builds because nothing, including you the manager, is to be taken seriously. 

How to Send Out Messages

When you need to send out guidance, explicitly state the level of urgency and/or importance. For issues that are important, you should contact your employee live (in person, via phone or video) and communicate the level of importance. 

Don't assume one message is enough, send a followup message. Include in the followup message an appropriate topic and deadline in the subject line. For example: Call Client ABC about the Widget Production by COB Friday. This tells your employee that this is an important but not urgent matter.

Avoid sending out a text message unless it is a simple command. A simple command can be explained within two sentences. The following is an example: Call the Admin. Tell her that you will arrive in the office ten minutes late.

Success at Last!

Success happens when your staff executes the instructions perfectly. But keep in mind that communication is not a science. You must work with your staff to find the best way to communicate with them.

Some people work better with verbal instructions while others require written or visual instructions. Get feedback from staff along the way. 

Collaboration is a key part of the success of any organization, executed through a clearly defined vision and mission and based on transparency and constant communication. -Dinesh Paliwal

Got feedback? I’d love to read it! Please drop me a note in the comment section below.

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