With the end of the third quarter just around the corner, everyone is wanting to position their company well during the fourth quarter of 2012 so they can start 2013 off on a strong footing. As a result, there is a tremendous amount of performance anxiety in offices across this country. Some people are worried sick that they will not be able to meet their numbers or the expectations of their manager. The difficulty from my vantage point is that many leaders are not truly prepared to do something about this situation. They want to hit the numbers yet they also do not want to burn out their best people. What typically happens is some kind of superficial change that really does not help. The more difficult decisions are not easy and thus are avoided. I learned this many years ago.
I was working with an executive on a strategic plan when he shared with me the following story about his daughter and a problem she was having at work. Being this was her first job post college, she had called her Dad and told him that she could not keep up with the work load. He reported to me that he had given her the classic “work harder” speech. He told her to put in an extra effort and work more hours. She received this feedback well and worked 12 hours a day to manage all that was expected of her.
He continued this story by telling me that about 30 days later his daughter had called back and reported that she was on average working 60-70 hours a week and still could not keep up. So, he gave her the “work smarter” speech. He told her to prioritize her work, focus on short term wins, and to delegate her work better if possible. He encouraged her to analyze her weekly calendar and to put the “big rocks in first.” Again, she appreciated this feedback.
Finally, he explained to me that she had called back after 30 days in tears. She had worked harder and had worked smarter. She had even gotten a new calendar and had organized her life down to 15 minute, prioritized segments in order to do what was important and not always what was urgent. She had eliminated time with family and friends, plus most of her exercise time in an attempt keep on top of her work load. Still, she was behind.
He turned to me and said, “Geery - after giving her the work harder and work smarter speeches, I only had one more speech to give her. It was the ‘work different’ speech. I told her that if she worked harder and worked smarter and still could not keep up that more likely she was working in a poorly designed system. Then her options were limited unless she could change that system. Given she could not, I told her that when harder and smarter do not work, then it was time to work for a different company.” He ended this story by telling me that she had changed jobs and found a company where hard work and smart work were paying off.
I think of this story during this time of the year and know that some will have to work harder and others will have to work smarter. However, if we as leaders do not confront poorly designed systems, then some will have to work differently. The choice is ours to make.