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Q & A / DAN SONGER

Managing Partner, Priority Management

August 30, 1993|DEBORA VRANA | TIMES CORRESPONDENT

Six years ago, Dan Songer and partner Jeffrey D. Ring formed Innovative Management Systems, an Irvine company that teaches workers how to manage increasingly demanding workloads. It has consulted more than 200 businesses, including the Vons Cos. Inc., TRW Inc., Yamaha, Unisys Corp and First Interstate Bank. Songer, 42, said workers in Orange County are under more pressure than ever, but with proper training the problems are manageable. He recently spoke with Times correspondent Debora Vrana.

A current country-Western song has the lyrics: "I'm in a hurry to get things done. I rush and rush until life's no fun." Do you think this is how American workers feel these days?

Yes. There is clearly a trend where people are working harder and harder. There is a statistic we use in our business: Since 1975 work has increased 22% and leisure time has decreased 32%. So there is clearly a trend where people are working harder and harder just to keep up.

Why is that?

There is clearly a transition into a global economy. Where in the old days we might be competing against other companies in Orange County, now many of our companies here are under a lot of pressure to complete against not only Orange County companies, but companies located in other parts of the country and companies in the Pacific Rim.

The second reason is because the economy in Southern California is going through a horrendous compression. Many companies in Orange County are struggling just to keep the doors open. They are downsizing and getting rid of a lot of personnel, many of their administrative personnel. It's a major challenge to make a profit. That has an impact on how workers are maintained. . . . We're finding lots of workers in the marketplace who are not good self managers. They lack the tools, the skills, the techniques to apply to their work flow on a day-to-day basis to make them proactive as opposed to reactive.

How does a worker know when he or she isn't a good self manager?

There are some real classic symptoms, for example, a workstation. If you look, you'll find folks stack documents, or files and pieces of paper. In between a number of meetings, you might look and there will be 15 unanswered phone slips sitting there. Someone who works much longer hours than they need, they work way past 5 or 6 o'clock on a frequent basis. The work output starts to suffer from them not being able to keep up.

Do you think Orange County workers are under more stress than ever before?

I do. Orange County is a more progressive marketplace than other areas of the United States. We have more than our share of the high-tech companies here and the high-tech marketplace has really taken a beating lately. And there's been more compression of companies in this area. That has a negative impact.

Secondly, the flow of technology and information in a place like Orange County is higher, so it causes our companies to be more competitive than ever. More so than, say, a group of companies in South Dakota or North Carolina. So the strain of trying to keep up with the flow of competition versus the compression of the marketplace is really catching our workers in a vise. Sometimes it's almost an impossible situation to manage.

What are the signs of a stressed worker?

Let's start with sleeping. If you have a high stress level, you might have your sleep interrupted. You might wake up in the middle of the night thinking about a memo you needed to answer. You might wake up and come into the office more tired than normally. Enjoyment of meals could be interrupted. Your relationships could be interrupted. In our workshops we talk about how we send dad to work at 7 in the morning and we get Godzilla home at 6:30 p.m. People get out of sorts.

How can a worker change this scenario?

Actually, to turn this situation around on a worker-by-worker basis is not that difficult and it really focuses on training, acquiring the necessary competencies, the tools and skills that will make them proactive. And there are many companies, such as ours, with terrific training packages. First thing I would suggest to a worker is do some kind of self-analysis to see what the deficiencies are.

What are some of the tips you give in your training?

We have 16 different essential management skills; they range from time management to something like project management. What we discovered is that people think there is just time management, but you cannot manage time. There is nothing you or I can do to get this watch to stop ticking.

We work with our clients to become more creative by teaching them mind-mapping techniques. We challenge them to think about developing a personal strategic plan.

The challenge is people think they don't have time. We try and get them to write, with their family at home, a personal mission statement. You need to get open participation from everyone in the family, even the children.

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