Like many leaders I can be described as driven, relentless, aggressive, determined, focused, and other common traits of “type A” personalities. Have you ever considered how these traits may be causing you to be less productive? As an executive coach, I have found many well-intention “Type A” people are actually causing themselves and their organizations to be less productive. Often, we self-deceive ourselves into believing that we are productive most of the time and downplay the impact when we are not. The justification is our success track record. We see this success a result of making quick decisions, moving fast, pursuing excellence, and using our drive to move things forward. While these traits are valuable, when overextended it works against us.
Could you unconsciously cause yourself and others to climb the wrong mountains? You are doing far more often than you realize. Many leaders enjoy and love to solve problems. When they see them, they want to solve them. The more problems solved the more accomplished one may feel. However, what if the problems you solved are the wrong ones? Or worse, they are really speed bumps taking you away from the climbing the right mountains.
I could have stopped and did not because of a relentless pursuit of right a wrong.
I was inspired to write this article after a recent experience where I ruined a Saturday. This all happened because I felt compelled to fix a wrong. On the surface, it seemed like the right thing to do. However, my relentless pursuit to right a wrong led to an odyssey that I could have stopped at any time and did not.
I had purchased some headphones (an Apple product) from Verizon. The were shipped to me because a lack of inventory. When they arrived one of the headphones had a button that was stuck. While they worked well-enough, it bothered me that one of the earpieces was damaged. I could not use the button to accept calls, pause and start music, and so on. I felt entitled to have a product that worked properly and was perturbed that $200+ headphones did not work as they should.
Long story short, I spent 5 hours in-store and on the phone trying to get Apple to repair or replace the headphones. After all of this effort, they agreed to repair them. In the end, they were returned to me still broken and with out the earpieces that accompanied them. Yes, the situation was now worse. I submit!
The real issue was me! Once I had momentum to fix my perceived situation, there was no stopping me. After all, I take pride in making things happen. If I was not so focused and determined I should have aborted? Yes, I received damaged goods. But they worked fine…just not perfect. And, in my defense, if you told me in advance I could get them fixed but it would take 5 hours of my time, I would never have left well enough alone. $200 is not a big deal for me and I could have easily tossed them without a sweat. After all, I have tons of headphones sitting in a drawer because I disliked them for one reason or another. The real issue was me. In the end my time was more valuable then righting this wrong.
It is fair to assume that the average person wastes at least 20% of their time every week climbing the wrong mountains or taking the wrong paths.
You are probably asking yourself, what does this have to do with you as a leader and how does this affect your organization. The fact is, all day long we have people doing the equivalent. They spend time on $200 headphones when there are much better uses of their time. Worse, when they start down the path of solving a very important issue and don’t pull back when it is obvious they are headed down the wrong path. It is fair to assume that the average person wastes at least 20% of their time every week climbing the wrong mountains or taking the wrong paths. We need a process to see when we need to consider aborting. Most “Type A” people miss these moments and take others with them.
Use the symptoms to find the mountain!
In Your Business is A Leaky Bucket, I opened with a story about a client who was nine months away from the end of an earn-out period from the sale of their company. They had a lot of money at stake and were not sure how they were going to maximize their return.
They brought me in to help figure-out how to close the gap. After meeting with their executive team, there were a few factors that were apparent:
- The existing team seemed overworked.
- It appeared that had to fill too many open positions and did not believe they could fill them in time to take advantage of the earn-out period.
- They were afraid if they pushed people any harder more people will quit required them to fill more positions.
- Most importantly, their sales team was spending far too much time working on administrative issues rather than selling.
So which issue do you address: recruiting, retention, workload, or sales team productivity? Most leaders would say we have to address all of them. They would push everyone to work on the symptoms. They symptoms would have been the wrong focus.
We found the mountain, that when solved, would make the other other mountains go away. The mountain was “waste.” They had 175 employees, most of which were the right people in the right seats. When I asked, “was it possible that, on average, everyone wasted 10 percent of their time doing things that did not help them add customers, serve existing customers, or improve the profitability of the organization?” I got a hearty laugh from everyone in the room. Everyone believed they spent over 20% of their time in unproductive meetings, developing unnecessary reports, creating redundant procedures, and so on. In the end, it was agreed that a 10% organization-wide waste goal was conservative. To put this into perspective that represent approximately forty-five thousand hours of work. The equivalent of 21 people.
Without going into a lot of detail we climbed the forty-five thousand hour mountain. They enrolled every employee in the company to help identify the waste. They challenged everyone to double the amount of time sales people spent selling without adding any employees.
It was a big success! The employees submitted far more than 45,000 hours worth of suggestions, many of which were addressed in 60 days. The result:
- Record growth rate – sales people far more productive
- Record net profit margins – Driven by higher growth and eliminating the need for headcount.
- Record employee engagement scores – Aligning and enrolling all employees to eliminate workload lead to employee engagement scores that have never been replicated.
- Everyone was working similar hours and felt less burnout.
Your Next Steps
Are you and your organization climbing the right mountain? Can you be guilty of chasing too many issues rather than fixing the one big one? One way to know is to look at the list of company priorities. If there are more than 3 it is likely that you are not focusing and failing to properly prioritize. Look at the usually symptoms:
- Difficulty filling positions
- Higher turnover
- Failure to grow faster than the market
- Net profit margins are not in the top 10% for your industry peer group.
- Time is controlling you