Working harder is not the answer

As we are entering this year’s fourth and final quarter, we have 12 weeks to go before Christmas! Although it seems as if we’ve only just returned from our summer breaks, we already find ourselves in the middle of the year end craze, with so much that still needs to get done before the end of the year.

Average teams give in to the increased operational pressures. Struggling to make their 2016 targets, they let themselves drown in the frantic pace of daily business, the urgencies of the week and added “special initiatives” to make those targets. Before they know it, they find themselves in January, totally exhausted and utterly unprepared for the year ahead.

It then takes many of those teams well into February or even March before they agree on their new objectives for 2017. Or worse: before they are handed down from on high. Perhaps not surprisingly, these objectives tend to be a linear extension of last year’s, focused almost entirely on tactical performance (eg, increase sales by 15%).

Note that by that time the first quarter is almost over. And so 2017 will be the same as 2016, the same frantic pace all year, only to increase yet again in the fourth quarter. And before they know it, it’s January again and the cycle repeats.

These teams work incredibly hard. But at best they get average performance.

Contrast that with truly great teams. They use the final quarter to set aside some quiet time, removed from the operational hectic. They use this time to reflect, learn and prepare for the future. They take a hard look at both their successes and their failures over the course of the year — and learn from both.

They challenge the basic assumptions underlying their business and their organisation — and are prepared to change them if they find them no longer useful. They think not only about what to work on, but also why and how. Their objectives go beyond simple metrics for tactical performance. They include improving the very system within which they work — and which ultimately determines how easy it is to deliver great performance. And so they set themselves goals for things like team effectiveness, culture, innovation, learning, process simplicity and more.

On January 1 they are prepared. Their focus is clear and the team is well aligned and committed to what they need to do.

Great teams get performance from working smarter, not harder. Not that they cannot work harder. They can — and do if required. But they understand that working harder is unsustainable in the long run. Not only because it is mentally and physically exhausting, but also because it is not a differentiator. Anyone can do it.

I’m privileged to be able to work with great teams and organisations all year and on all kind of aspects of working smarter — from improving strategy execution and strengthening culture to simplifying organisation design.

But I particularly enjoy spending time with them running inspiring and productive year end workshops, focused and reflection and learning as well as preparing for the future. Have a look at the year end overview page on my website to learn more about how I can help your team. And get in touch with me to discuss your specific needs so we can create the perfect workshop for you.

I would love to help your team work smarter next year!

Raymond Hofmann is an independent management designer and advisor. He works with clients to identify and remove barriers to high performance and implement better management systems. Find out more: raymondhofmann.com.