How many of you have been requested to have a project task to be completed As Soon As Possible (A.S.A.P.)? How many of you have requested a team or team member to complete ASAP? What does ASAP mean to you as the person requesting the task or activity? What does it mean to you as the person that has to execute the activity?
Recently, after various conversations with leaders and associates around this term, I decided to create a poll. I submitted this poll to a few groups of Linkedin.
The question: “What Does ASAP Mean to you?”
The results speak for themselves: There are abysmal differences on the interpretations of what ASAP means. As the data not surprisingly indicates, the term ASAP has very different meanings to different people. This difference seems to be more exasperated between leaders and associates, creating a lack of direction, causing frustration and unnecessary distraction.
When leaders request to have something done ASAP, they are creating an atmosphere of uncertainty where the associate has to guess what to do first.
Let´s say an analyst is working on a project with data that took several hours to load in the system; in the middle of this his leader asks for an ASAP activity. There are a few options: To put on hold or drop the current analysis, or to finish what has been done and then move to the new request. Both alternatives have potential risks. If the current analysis is dropped, all time invested up to this point could be wasted. Teams or associates waiting on this data could be affected, potentially delaying a project.
On the other hand if the analyst decides to finish the current project, then the requested activity may not be completed when it is needed. In both scenarios there is a potential loss.
I would argue that the term ASAP should be eliminated from the business vocabulary and replaced with a concept of “front loading accountability” where teams and associates know exactly when activities are needed, they commit to specific timelines and can plan their work based on clear, direct requests.
Taking the time to set clear expectations, defining specific tasks and time frames, checking for understanding, negotiating deadlines and getting “a commitment” are fundamental steps in creating a culture of accountability where people do what they promise when they promise.
Leaders need to realize that using terms like ASAP or “I don´t care what you do first, as long as everything gets done”, not only creates an atmosphere of uncertainty and confusion in the workplace, but reflects poorly on them by giving the impression of lack of leadership and weak decision making skills.
So, if you commonly use ASAP as part of your requests, for the good of others, the company and your reputation, stop using it As Soon As Possible!
What are your thoughts? Should others learn what the requestor means with ASAP as time passes? Or should the requestor spend a few more minutes and clarify when it is really needed?