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Time, Space and Work

“Busy” is probably the default answer to the generic question “How are you”. It’s almost that you need to be busy to be valued, that otherwise people find you lazy or unambitious. But when we see organisations where people work and work, complete task after task, have meetings after meetings and genuinely are very busy, we ask ourselves, does it work?

Of course, at times we sustain periods of high workload and genuine busy-ness because we’re consumed by a mission, a project, a deadline. But when it is a habit, a default or perhaps even an excuse, it’s perhaps good to pause and reflect, does it really work?

The Wall Street Journal recently published an article titled: “How to succeed in business? Do less" by Morten Hansen. He says that most top performers in business have one thing in common: they accept fewer tasks and then obsess over getting them right. Carefully select what to do and not to do, keep things as simple as you can and add value. A long read, but worthwhile.

This week an article in Medium was along the same lines: “The most surprising principle of good leadership: Don’t be busy.” Best leaders chose not to be busy and only do the stuff that only they are responsible for. A short and thought provoking read, click here.

Raising efficiency with labour monitoring technologies is something we read more and more about, with companies like Amazon at the forefront with introducing wristbands to 'manage' their warehouse staff through their tasks with maximum efficiency. The Economist had recently a ‘free exchange’ article about the practices applied to control workers and how they do their jobs. Working harder leads in the short term indeed to higher productivity. But Peter Drucker said in 1967 already that “all one can think and do in a short time is to think what one already knows and to do what one always has done”. Working hard all the time means being less open to look for better ways to do things, to innovate, to challenge the status quo. Instead, hard working as default may lead to the undesired prophecy that that worker will be replaced by a robot. For the entire article click here.

And what about working hard and its impact on engagement? In a study by Forbes Coaches Council, 800 randomly selected employees in manufacturing, services and higher education markets were asked how well their organisation is using more than 60 selected organisational excellence best practices and what engages them most. The table below shows on the left the top best practices correlated with engagement of senior leadership’s level of management, and on the right the top the practices that engage those who are not responsible for managing others.

Front line workers put more emphasis on the personal aspects, such as culture and value and being valued. Senior leadership on the other hand are mainly engaged by non-personal things such as achieving excellence, planning, accountability, efficiency, etc. Now, one is not better or more right than the other. You need both point of views for sustained success. Putting this in the context of The Economist article about efficiency raising approaches by leadership and management and we may just miss the trick purely focusing on the senior leadership's views. Read the entire article here .

What we learn about 'working hard' doesn’t only apply to employees and internal organisations. In the superb blog by Bernadette Jiwa called 'The Story of Telling' she talks this week about the urge and focus of organisations to get more and more customers . It leads to scale but not necessarily to a better business. If we fail to deliver on expectations and we become more occupied with getting more customers instead of working to keep the customers we have, we may have found the parallel in marketing and selling to what ‘work harder and harder’ is in organisations. We don’t need every customer, nor always work harder and harder. Read Bernadette’s blog post here.

Finally, another short blog post, this time by Rohan Rajiv in his excellent "A Learning a Day', talks about intensity over length. He says: “The most common response to added scope or work I’ve heard from myself or others is – “I’ll need to stay up late to get this done.” Optimising length, it turns out is just one way to solve the problem and is the most limited tool we have at our disposal. Instead, when we have clarity on why we're doing what we're doing and focus on one thing at a time we have a proper productivity multiplier. Go here to read the entire post.

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