So here is the thing… last week I heard two paradoxical facts:
Fact 1 – we have no time.
We are nearing the end of our research consortium focused on the future of work and need to ensure that the ideas that have come from the research are translated into facts, ideas and actions for the companies that have participated. That’s going to take time – perhaps four hours a week of focused team-work to ensure the translation takes place. Yet when we ask executive teams about putting this amount of work in thinking about the actions for the future, the overwhelming response is that many teams are simply too busy to dedicate this time. It’s not that they don’t think this is important for the future – but as often happens at work, the short term is overwhelming the longer time priorities. So – the first fact I heard this week is that many executive teams simply have no time for this type of longer-term work.
Fact 2 – we waste 40% of our working time.
That reality was in my mind when I worked earlier in the week with a major US based multinational company. The team was mulling over the results of an analysis of the working patterns of hundreds of employees they had commissioned. What was clear was that more than 40% - yes you have heard it right – not 4% but a full 40% of work currently being undertaken was not actually productive work. Doing stuff that was not needed, working on projects that had no significance, going to meetings that had no outcomes.
Now the paradox emerges. At the very time that we are overwhelmed by the minutia of everyday work – we are simultaneously engaged in work that has no productive outcome. Now that’s interesting.
So how has this happened? I’d be interested in your views – but here is my own starter for 10.
- Bureaucracies tend to be great at starting things (projects, meetings, committees, processes) but not so good at stopping. Typically there is lots of kudos in being the initiator – but little in being the stopper. So we are faced with layers and layers of work that should have been stripped out years ago.
- We are making scant use of technology. This is apparent in the wails of the youngsters Gen Y who are often appalled and frustrated at how little impact technology has had on work productivity. We send emails when a drop box would be better; we jump on a plane when a video conference would have been as effective; we analyse data manually when a well crafted business analytic would have achieved the same outcome in a nanosecond.
- The boundaries of time and work have disappeared with iphones and blackberries. We have become addicted to that little sound that reminds us a new message has arrived and can spend many happy hours sifting through our email. Deeply satisfying? Yes. Really productive? Hardly.
- Leading – be that the smallest team or the largest corporation is very, very tricky in 2011. There is the complexity of managing in a virtual environment, the challenge of working with different nationalities and all the cultural specificity that can go with this, and the sheer difficulty of potentially managing five generations with very different attitudes and working styles. As a consequence of this trickiness my view is that many leaders are simply not performing. It’s not that they are not intelligent, and indeed its not that they are highly motivated, enthusiastic and energetic. No, the challenge is more profound than that – they simply have no idea how they are supposed to lead. And faced with this dilemma they spin the wheels, creating endless work for others and re-working when one pass through would do. That’s by the way why (as I mentioned in an earlier blog) so many Gen Y’s are leaving – the spinning wheels is driving them mad and they are resenting the hours they have to work.
So how to solve the paradox? In a sense the answer lies in that often discarded aspect of human resources and organisational development – the design of work. Sure it’s crucial to pay people properly and to design an organisational structure that works with the strategy. However, unless we can become more adapt and skilled at designing work then the paradox of no time and 40% unproductive activity will remain.
Your thoughts on the paradox would be very welcome. Have you seen it? Is my analysis of why correct? And what do you see as the solutions? I look forward to that little sound that reminds me that a message has come in!