Thursday, July 31, 2014

To Enhance Productivity, Stop Doing Something!

Guest post from Willy Steiner:
It was recently announced that the national unemployment rate went down to 6.1%. I was an Economics minor in college, many moons ago, and full employment was considered to be around 6%. By the time the Dot-com boom hit its peak in 2000, full employment was thought to be closer to 4%. I never got the memo as to when they made that change but it seemed to make sense given the hubris of the times and how wealthy many Internet startups made their founders.
Economists today say the full employment number is between 5 and 5.5%. Again, I missed the memo but the reason I bring this up is that we may be approaching a real tightness in the labor markets and finding ways to retain our employees will be critical to our future success.

“Besides the noble art of getting things done, there is the noble art of leaving things undone. The wisdom of life consists in the elimination of nonessentials.” - Lin Yutang

Companies must continue to find ways to improve their productivity and during the last several years there have been significant investments in software and systems to assist in that. But what’s missing is an ongoing reevaluation of all the work that’s being done.

Who gives someone permission to stop doing something that is no longer needed? In today’s environment, it appears employees are fearful of speaking up about that. So I would encourage all managers to find a way to stop doing at least 5% of what’s currently being done to enhance productivity.

In a 40 hour work week, that means you’ll be finding two hours per week per employee to do things that are more important, to stay more organized, or to plan and prepare for new opportunities.
Here is a model for doing just that:

·        Announce that you are asking everyone to eliminate the bottom 5% of their tasks so they can focus on more important things.
·        Ask everyone to identify three tasks to eliminate, put it in writing, and bring it to a meeting to discuss it with the whole team. If your team is too large, you may have to break it up into groups but it will be important that everyone hear other ideas about what can be eliminated. It may encourage different or new thinking on the part of others when they hear these ideas. That’s called “piggybacking”.

·        Have each member of the team review their list out loud. Others may ask for them to clarify the task they have identified, but they are not allowed to argue with them about whether or not it can be eliminated at this point. Have each member of the team identify which of those three tasks they feel strongest about and would commit to. Do Not Debate – just get things on the table.

·        Now have each member of the team repeat the key task they want to eliminate and have the group rate it as follows:
o   “Duh!!!” - Of course we should stop doing that.
o   Probably no problem, but there may be a couple things to check on first.
o   Since there have been some concerns raised, let’s put that on the “to be considered list” for later.
o   NO, we can’t stop that - and here’s Why…
·        If a team member has a suggested task rejected based upon the collective wisdom of the team, have them go to the next task on their list.
·        Combine the list of the “Duhs” and “Probably no problem…” tasks and send that list to the entire team. Make a separate list of the “To be considered” tasks for later review. At this point everyone has committed to trying to eliminate the task they have identified.

·        The manager must reinforce that if anyone runs into a problem or an unintended consequence of stopping to do a certain task, they should inform the manager as soon as practical.

·        Have a brief meeting at the two-week mark to report in on any things that have been learned about stopping these tasks. Talk about the time that’s been freed up and any concerns that may exist.

·        At the one-month mark, review the status of each task that has been stopped and see if any adjustments may need to be made. Ask each member of the team what lessons have been learned from the exercise and record this.

Saving everybody two hours a week is a reasonable and modest effort that should free up time for more important tasks. It may also identify other process bottlenecks that exist and require further study. Once you feel this exercise has been productive, repeat as needed, but commit to doing so at least once a year.

Ask yourself:

1.     Do I really need anyone’s permission to do this with my team?
2.     Am I willing to follow-through on things once we’ve started?
3.     Can I get members of my team to help track progress?

I look forward to your suggestions and comments. 

About the author:
Willy Steiner is the President of Executive Coaching Concepts, an executive leadership firm dedicated to assisting senior executives in taking their individual and organizational performance "TO THE NEXT LEVEL". He has provided valuable counsel to executives and teams throughout his career with General Electric, RCA Corp., Galileo International and for hundreds of other clients in a wide variety of industries in the US, Canada, Europe and Asia.

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