This is neither the time nor the place for simple hacks; we need thinking that is more potent.
While I do value the various listicles out there that remind you to eat a good breakfast in the morning, exercise and shut down your emails for extended stretches during the day, it’s time to take it up a serious notch.
And we’ll do it in two ways. First, we’ll look at productivity innovation not from the perspective of the individual, but instead the entire company – or at least your team. To create meaningful transformation, we have to think on a broader scale while also ensuring that all are on the philosophical same page. Otherwise, you, as one sole innovator of how time is used, could be senselessly cutting against the company grain.
Second, I’m not here looking for quick fixes and cultural veneers; I’m talking about wholesale evaluation and rethinking of how work gets done in a company, something that last got a jolt when PCs and the internet were invented.
I want us to regain meaningful amounts of time in our lives. And in so doing, I want the time we spend going forward to be not so much on treadmill corporate activities that we all too readily accept but instead on matters that genuinely drive outcomes. That’s what many young professionals mean when they say they want to invest energy in making an impact…and I’m so on board. A productive work environment where people invest the right amount of energy on the right types of things is one that will attract and retain some outstanding people.
In my prior post I have acknowledged why we keep defaulting to working harder than smarter despite the rhetoric promoting the latter. So yes we first must audit where our heads are at, to make sure we are capable of leading or influencing change. We also have to make sure that we don’t always give in so easily to my contemporaries of the older guard that work hard to defend what are now ancient work practices. We have to build confidence to assert that new is more often better and lead transformation from the ground up if we have to.
Some of my recommendations might be a little eyebrow-raising, but they are a byproduct of a range of experience in different functions, verticals and company sizes and types. They also are connected to broader strategic thoughts that I have written about in past posts, although I’m presenting more of a tactical list here.
I have limitless amounts of passion for a radically more productive and agile work environment, along with a desire to have a more complete and fulfilling life both outside work and in. To get there we have to question everything we believe to be the right and best way, so that we can open our minds to big cultural changes that can deliver immeasurable benefits. These would be the bigger priorities among a long list of mine:
Make all meetings optional. For everyone.
Works best if: a platform is established to publish information shared and decisions made in all meetings; all meetings are transparent/visible and anyone can attend.
Productive because: empowers employees to make their own decisions on how their time should be best spent; reduces the number of attendees for a more productive conversation; those attending are passionate about subject, which could include attendees from other departments (who would be allowed to join in).
Provide development on chairing a meeting.
Works best if: employees are also routinely coached, rated and reviewed on their ability to organize and chair a meeting, to go along with any more formalized training.
Productive because: not many know how to run effective meetings, and we’re never taught; better preparation on objectives and outcomes; improved ability to direct conversation to key decisions.
Eliminate conference rooms.
Works best if: there are alternate and convenient meeting ‘spaces’ in or outside of the office
Productive because: Chairs and tables make people too comfortable; we think and operate more slowly and less creatively when seated and immobile in a stagnant environment. Have people stand, do walking meetings and regularly change up the environment (note: provide chairs or other accommodation for people with disabilities, of course!)
Change default meeting length to 30 mins.
(Or take any routine meeting that currently exists on your calendar and imagine what you would do in half the time)
Works best if: there is a simple system or cultural norm to question or approve longer meetings
Productive because: we naturally and subconsciously create a cadence of conversation to extend to the end of whatever time is allotted. (Example: as a marketer, when I agree to take a meeting from a service provider asking for my business, I tell them they have 20 minutes to present a maximum of 10 slides and then they’ll be cut off. They are surprised to not get 60 minutes but still routinely manage to do a great job by switching to elevator pitch mode!)
Restrict teams to a maximum size. (goes for meetings, too!)
Productive because: Due to the phenomena of ‘social loafing’ (people can slack and go unnoticed) and politics, returns begin to diminish once you have more than about five people on a team. Smaller teams drive maximum engagement and higher ROI on time invested on a per-participant level. We must learn that in a growing number of situations, more is not better.
Stop force-feeding information; prioritize accessibility and transparency.
Works best if: there is a dedicated platform (e.g. a Slack room) to stream all company events, key decisions, information for people to read on their own time; must build into coaching and performance review model the expectation to stay engaged. Two-way dialogue moments are implemented to ask questions or comment e.g. in Town Hall meetings
Productive because: eliminates lengthy meetings to share information (see next item); empowers employees to stay engaged on their own terms and preferred timing while decoupling them from the entrepreneurial spirit-killing dependency of waiting for management meetings and signals on what to think about and when. Stops companies from getting bogged down in bureaucratic and inflexible practices to disseminate information; makes better use of systems while shifting ownership to the teams to stay engaged for maximum agility.
Works best if: information is shared prior to a meeting in the way LinkedIn execs do. Coaching and performance evaluation systems create expectations to come to meetings prepared. Also, the process of teams compiling information to present is replaced with sophisticated systems that deliver instant insights via query from any device.
Productive because: improves overall agility within organizations and in the marketplace. In meeting situations, teams ingest information more quickly by reading vs being read to in a group meeting setting; meetings are shorter and used to focus on decisions, not information gathering; attendees have internalized and digested all needed information prior to the meeting, facilitating clarity of questions, conversations and solution building.
Celebrate the benefits of productivity wins.
Productive because: raises consciousness about and creates inertia around a productivity culture. Because better productivity = less time spent working, need to reinforce counter-culture to the old paradigm linking intensity of work to time spent. i.e. time to live and breathe the paradigm of work smarter, not harder, while we stop being clock watchers!
Eliminate most extended brainstorming sessions and ‘creativity’ events.
Works best if: Senior management is accessible to all levels and engaged in both casual and (semi) formal conversation about direction and the future of the company beyond current products and strategies. Or some other common cultural practice to mine visionary thinking as it happens.
Productive because: The smartest and most entrepreneurial employees are routinely thinking about the business and ideating at all sorts of random times and on and ongoing basis. Scheduling and planning for creativity sessions consumes untold human resources and does not synch up with the natural flow of the entrepreneurial mind. As a result, game-changing business ideas are relatively rare coming out of many of the more over-produced sessions.
Do away with bulk training sessions.
Works best if: There is a robust coaching and personal development program in place, including situations where employees get access to environments where the most talented and senior in the company process business information and make decisions.
Productive because: The biggest need that training sessions fill is to make senior management feel like they are motivating and ‘developing’ their team. Only in rare cases is bulk training justified; customized training and coaching is more effective. Additional insights that explain why the time spent is not valuable can be found here. As most of us know now, experience and exposure to smart people are the most effective development tools, and I couldn’t agree more. In my career I have probably been in over 500 hours of courses and I can only think of one thing I took away that I incorporated and found value in….aside from my bitterness over the mounting pile of work waiting for me upon my return.
Be extra judicious with events and off-sites.
Works best if: The office environment is designed to facilitate the excellent micro-transactions that can happen throughout the day. Events added to the calendar replace other meetings or work that needs to be done (vs being additive). Leaders objectively examine and monitor return on investment in time preparing and hosting.
Productive because: Valuable co-worker relationships can be strengthened in natural and authentic ways, such as eating lunch together. Off-sites can be a fun break but can also add stress if they are incremental activities. Many employees who love their jobs still don’t live to work, they work to live.
Reward and motivate people with time.
Follows from above. Giving back time to people is so unheard of yet incredibly powerful. Don’t agree? Watch the excited ripple across a department when you cancel a meeting. Only announcing a bonus generates the same level of excitement.
It’s a great bonding initiative, too. Imagine going up to a teammate and saying, “I’m going to finish a project for you – why don’t you take the rest of the day off to finish your holiday shopping or go visit your relative who is in the hospital?” You will reduce someone’s stress and build a relationship simultaneously. A zillion ways to iterate this concept but it revolves around removing instead of adding.
How would you re-engineer your company to create a more productive, impact-driven culture? I’m not usually looking for the quick and easy initiatives, but rather ideas that cut to the core of a company’s operating DNA. Would love to compare notes and discuss the leadership challenges of implementation; the bigger the company and the longer it has been in business, the tougher it is!
(Maybe only for viewers Canada): Mike Babcock, coach of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey team, on why his meetings are all five mins or less