Wasting time

Like most people I am not immune to a little time wasting. Every now and then something interesting catches my eye on an internet search and I can while away quite significant amounts of time on subjects not entirely related to my initial search, sometimes it's useful but often I'm really just avoiding a mundane task back at the non-internet ranch. 

I also have an uncanny ability to spot small and meaningless household chores to be done just as I need to focus on a boring but important activity. I now have a system where I allow myself 30 minutes timewasting and set the alarm on my iPhone which allows me to both enjoy wasting short pockets of time but be back in the moment when I need to be. Simple but effective.

I do wonder though how much time is wasted in organisations when core purpose gets neglected. I was coaching a senior HR professional recently and without any doubt this bright capable individual was ready for a move into a new role where she could run her own show. She was however very unfocussed about what she should do next in her career. It's not unusual for people to be able to explain coherently what they don't want in a new job and yet at the same time be unable to identify the exciting future they might have. This seemed to be a slighter more developed case of the "don't have a clue" syndrome. In order to get underneath the issues I asked her to take me through the last few weeks in a structured hour by hour profile. We then spent some time working on the business outcomes that were critical for her department to achieve and rated these in order of priority. The final task was to attempt to correlate her daily and hourly activities to the priority areas.

It's sadly no surprise that more than 60% of her time was spent on activity that had in her view no relationship to the priorities. So much of her days were spent complying with organisational reporting requirements that she could no longer identify the line of sight between her contribution and the services to customers. Online reporting may have replaced form filling but it makes no difference if the information collection adds no value. It didn't take long to recognise that days and weeks spent producing seemingly unnecessary information to be sent into the bowels of the machine is hardly rewarding for either the individual or the organisation.

Worse still the information requirements did not result in any feedback or improvements to the productivity of the organisation. When I asked her to tell me in her words what difference her organisation made her eyes lit up, she became animated and was clear about the value of the work. She was clearly a committed member of staff who wanted to make a difference to customers but the organisation had lost its way at least with her.  

This is very common, in an attempt to manage information particularly around productivity there is a temptation for managers to build systems to cope with every eventuality. This is often a good idea to begin with, but the beast gets hungry and for many the job of feeding becomes the task. You can usually tell when it's going wrong in medium sized corporations because there are a group of people whose sole job is to manage performance data, and they invariably have no experience of the work that forms the bedrock of the offer to customers. Now that's fine if management is sensible and recognises that this is merely a function to provide information to ensure that business direction is achieved. However, weak management start to chase the data and the performance managers take on a more senior place in the hierarchy than they either warrant or is healthy for the organisation. The outcome is that the targets become the new religion and the core purpose gets lost somewhere.

Staying connected to business purpose is a skill that the best leaders possess, they do not allow talented staff to become disillusioned by systems that add limited value. They connect with their customers on a regular basis and ensure that all staff do the same. The best spend time with their staff seeking feedback on how the organisation is working. Targets are seen as necessary but are not the primary function of the organisation, and data keepers are rarely regarded as  masters of the universe but are seen as an integral support system no more no less.

The upshot of the discussion was that the bright, competent and capable individual tried to persuade her organisation to focus more on its real purpose but did not believe the platitudes as nothing changed in reality. So she has taken her talents to another organisation who will reap the benefits of her experience, training and fantastic customer service attitudes. So now the guilty organisation will have to invest in the recruitment and training of a replacement and unless they change their ways they will repeat this scenario over and over again.

 

 


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