To Enhance Productivity, Stop Doing Something!

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

“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


Here is a model for
doing just that:

that you are asking everyone to eliminate the bottom 5% of their tasks so they
can focus on more important things.


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”.

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.

have each member of the team repeat the key task they want to eliminate and
have the group rate it as follows:


– Of course we should stop doing that.
no problem, but there may be a couple things to check on first.
there have been some concerns raised, let’s put that on the “to be considered
list” for later.
we can’t stop that – and here’s Why…


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.


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.

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.

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.

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:

I really need anyone’s permission to do this with my team?
I willing to follow-through on things once we’ve started?
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.