How to work less to achieve more!

Learn about the seven key requirements of the framework you can use to increase your productivity (or reduce your work effort.)

We’ve all heard expressions like, “work smarter not harder”. The problem is, in most cases, these adages only can be applied in hindsight. After the fact, we can all take a look at our work and assess how we could have been more effective by doing this or that.

The challenge lies in how to make these choices as foresight, not in hindsight.

Following a study with about 400 organisations to unravel this mystery, we discovered the essence of the solution is in creating a framework whereby the individual, the team and the organisation can determine “what is the right thing to do, in the right way, at the right time.”

The framework to do this must be both repeatable and reliable – by this we mean that any individual applying this framework would come to the same decisions regarding what to do, under the most reasonable scenarios.

We have found there to be seven key requirements (in no particular order):

  1. Clear goals – Clear, prioritised, strategic goals which clearly outlines what the preferred options are at any point in time. For example, are we here to gain more new customers?, or to get a better share of wallet from existing customers? These goals should then be stated as outcomes.
  2. Values –  The organisation must be clear about its values that employees are required to show as they complete their activities.
  3. Autonomy –  Employees must be given the grant of authority to achieve the desired outcomes in whichever way they feel best, so long as they live by the organisation’s values.
  4. S.M.A.R.T. goals  – S.M.A.R.T. performance targets that create the “Fair Deal” through which employees know if they have been achieving the desired targets towards which they will receive recognition and rewards.
  5. Socialisation – Humans are social animals, and we have all experienced over the last 18 months with COVID how significant of a role our work lives have in our social existence. Like any professional sports team, great performance only occurs when players (employees) have free and open communication with their teammates.
  6. Teamwork – As we know from football (aka soccer) no one can run faster while being passed. Our employees and leaders have to learn how to effectively pass work amongst each other in order to get the best results for the lowest effort.
  7. Follow up on open tasks – Someone once said “after all is said and done, more is said than is done”. We need a way to ensure that the commitments we make to each other and in meetings are accomplished on time.

To accomplish this, these elements need to be put into a “framework” that everyone can get access to – we have seen organizations call this their “Operating System”. This framework enables the capturing of all aspects of the corporate strategy, accurately cascading down to the department, team and individual level. The clear articulation of performance targets and ongoing performance feedback. Using this framework in an agile-like daily/ weekly stand-up meeting framework as well as ongoing weekly and monthly performance structures ensures it is top-of-mind and gradually educates the organisation on how to use this to make aligned decisions.

This framework ensures that everyone knows what “the right thing” is, through clear goals. They understand what is the “right way to do it” based on the defined outcomes, and they understand when it must be done based on the targets and timing.

Across the 400 organisations that we have been testing this with, we have seen an average 20% increase in productivity. Related to this we also see an average increase in employee satisfaction of 36% (reducing employee turnover and increasing customer satisfaction), and a recovery of 48 minutes a week for each manager.

The “recovered time” for managers is worth unpacking here as it is directly the result of this article’s title “How To Work Less To Achieve More.” No manager has ever said “Oh boy! I have several meetings today! This is going to be awesome – meetings are the best part of my job!”, but the fact is that meetings should be the best part of their job – they are the unique connection point between different processes with the explicit goal of making the organisation perform better, but research indicates over 50% of scheduled meetings should never have been arranged, and 37% of the time in meetings is deemed to be a waste of time by the participants.

We have found that meetings are the indisputable evidence of whether an organisation is functioning well or is living in chaos.

What if we could ensure that the right problems are going to the right meetings, staffed with the right people, who come to the meeting briefed and prepared for the conversation by not only reviewing the data but also considering solutions and talking to specific team members in advance? What if we allocated the right amount of time for the size of any topic and you agreed to move on to the next topic if we could not solve the problem during the allocated time?

You can only run a meeting like this if you have the above seven points in place. And when you have them in place, everyone reduces the waste (non-value-adding activities), focuses on the things that matter, and works collaboratively as a team to ensure goals are accomplished with a minimum of effort and errors and with maximum efficiency.

Brett Knowles

Brett Knowles is a thought leader in the Strategy Execution space for high-tech organizations. His client work has been published in Harvard Business Review, Forbes, Fortune, and many other business publications.

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