The Leadership Academy

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    There are countless books dealing with time management and stress in the workplace. While they contain many good tips they miss some key issues.

    With my involvement with those who have attended our Leadership Academy Leader Development Programs and other workshops over the years, it has become apparent that managers and workers alike waste far too much time doing work that is either unnecessary or needs to be re-done. Of greater concern is the meeting culture that has become endemic in many organisations, consuming hours of valuable time while often not leading to any worthwhile productive outcomes.

    These I see as three key issues frustrating people in their workplaces, causing them to work harder while often leading to unnecessary stress. The good news is that all three can be overcome.

    Firstly, eliminating unnecessary work. All of us have particular work preferences and we tend to spend more time doing the work we like rather than that which we dislike. If this work is not within the key results area of our work role, we will most likely be spending time doing work that is not completely necessary at the expense of work that is.

    Rather than see this in the negative sense, managers should identify the work preferences their people have and try to align them to the type of work required. They will often be very surprised by the findings!

    Just imagine how much more motivated employees would be coming to work and doing more of what they like doing. Better still, how much more productive are they likely to be?

    Another approach to the problem of doing work that is unnecessary is to ask yourself (and ask your staff to ask themselves) the following questions:

       1. What is it that I am trying to achieve? Many who can, don’t take the time to reflect on this very important question (often because they are so ‘busy’), while others are rarely given the opportunity to have any say.

       2. How am I going about it? This next step is critical and you need to take a step back to see the possibilities or alternatives, sometimes involving someone else will help see things more clearly.

       3. How can I do better? Contemplation is one thing, action is another. Action is the important step. Being able to make the adjustments to your own or your employees’ work that will lead to greater efficiencies in production and time is a positive move. Managers should be looking to delegate more of their less important work functions and should be looking to involve their people more in thinking and moving towards further improvement.

    Secondly, avoiding re-work. You will know from your own experiences how often projects or tasks (even simple ones) are not thought through or are not explained clearly and how often this can cause wasted time and effort. Clarifying expectations and ensuring understanding up front will go a long way towards eliminating this very frustrating occurrence and lead to better utilisation of time.

    People need to have an understanding of the context and purpose of what they are undertaking and more particularly, understand the constraints or critical issues involved. A simple method of task assignment in the form of a checklist is very helpful.

    Thirdly, Meetings, meetings – why, why? Meetings for what purpose! There are other ways of doing business, of keeping people informed, of involving people and the many other reasons put forward by the staunch defenders of this overdone practice. Unfortunately many managers fail to understand and accept that there are other ways that can be much more effective and don’t waste people’s time. Some examples are:

       1. Bulletin boards, emails or newsletters to keep people generally informed.

       2. Working one-on-one with the people concerned thus allowing more detailed and clearer dialog between those who have a part to play without the distractions of others who often have little to offer.

       3. Delegating tasks or functions. This is a most useful and constructive way of organising work that provides tremendous benefits, and which is often not fully understood. So too is organisational channelling where people who have the skills or expertise are chosen for a specific task or project.

    This is not to say that meetings are unimportant; they are. But the key criteria for holding meetings has to be firstly that the meeting is really necessary, it has a purpose, that it only involves those who really need to attend, that it never goes beyond the time notified, that it never departs from the issues it was intended to address, that it is not acceptable for people not to attend without due notification or to arrive late, and finally that the meeting starts on time.

    In summary, good leaders get people to work effectively, efficiently, happily and with minimum stress. They do this by:

       1. understanding people’s work preferences and ensuring they utilise their strengths to focus on what is really necessary;

       2. examining their own and their staff’s work practices; assigning tasks more clearly and clarifying understanding to ensure work will be done correctly the first time;

       3. minimising the number of meetings they have and using more direct ways of operating one-on-one, by delegation and regular short briefings; and

       4. ensuring meetings if conducted are well organised and actually lead to outcomes.

    The Leadership Academy staff are accredited members of the Team Management Systems network and have the tools to identify work preferences in employees and managers.

    Our Four-day Leadership Development Programs deal with the What and the How of Leadership and include guidance on the key matters addressed above.

    Tony Wass, September 2005