Sunday, May 25, 2008

Encouraging the doing

Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, a Spanish novelist, poet, and playwright, is well known to many of us as the author of the one of the kind book: "Don Quixote". This is not the only book written by him, but indeed the most influential one. In his book, Saavedra writes: "There is a big difference between speaking and doing".
Being honest with ourselves, all of us, as managers, workers and private people, are living examples. We all know that there are things that are right to be done and even though we are aware, we do not behave accordingly; we know about techniques and methodologies that were proven successful, and yet we do not take action.

What makes us concentrate on speaking rather than on doing? What makes us know more and implement less? How can we be sure that our employees, whom we manage, do more than speak? In an era of knowledge, when we rely on what our employees decide to share, and can only partly control what actually is done and achieved, it is important to give them, and give ourselves, the tools to encourage doing, and better balance speaking and doing.

I think I always tried to preach what I say. Enough? Probably not. A book I have read over a year ago, "the Knowing Doing Gap", written by Jeffrey Pfeffer and Robert Sutton, is my guide to this non-ending dilemma.

Why do people tend to speak rather act? There are several reasons:

First, we appreciate people who speak. Sometimes even more than those who do: Because speaking wisely is here and now, and results of doing are observed only later;
Because speaking outlines the message, but it takes some thinking to understand the messages behind the acting;
Because people who speak (if they do not exaggerate) are considered as people who influence and in some cases, even thought leaders;
Because in colleges and universities in management programs we talk and write, but hardly actually do;
And...Because most of us were appointed to our jobs after checking mainly our speaking skills.

Secondly, we all were all brought-up learning that planning is essential before acting, and the more we plan, the less we need to work on doing. In some projects, we finish all resources of time, money and management care, and yet we are in the phase of planning.

Furthermore, it is easier to speak than do; it requires less energy.

The list is of reasons why to speak rather act is not that short. I will just add that it is very challenging to change existing habits of work, in order to do new things. Leading the change is so difficult, that in some cases we convince ourselves that if we speak, we also implement. Are organizational activities of building a vision and sets of values, actually turning the vision and values into reality? Is a manager stating in the company broad meeting that innovation is important, actually implementing innovation of his people? And there are many more examples.

A few tips that assist in assuring that we will also act and not only speak:

  • Pay attention to the balance between meetings and doing; pay attention to the balance between documents (presentation, white papers) and fieldwork.
  • Implement the organization's values and turn them into reality; they probably are guiding us in the right direction.
  • Promote mainly, workers from inside the organization; less, bring managers from outside. Encourage the incentives of employees to act.
  • Assure that every manager and manager works on the field level and does not purely manage others, just remembering the fieldwork from the past.
  • Speak simple. It is OK to have a complicated idea if it can be explained in simple words and can be translated into simple actions. If people understand what is expected from them, there is a good chance they will actually do it.
  • Distribute responsibility and authority; be patient to mistakes that result. People will not act if they are to be punished when they err.
  • Prevent measuring results of the individual employee. If we measure- measure processes of work rather than results. Measure teams rather than individuals. By that, we encourage work within teams (that is so important in the era of knowledge workers). Only measuring results may trigger short-term benefits, but can damage and act as a boomerang in the long term. How to measure the individual? Measure them as to how they comply with the organization's values.
  • Prevent competition inside the organization. Most of the competitions are sum-zero and if someone wins, we have others that loose. We all know that competition is a trigger for motivating the people and we all have examples that prove it (i.e. in sports). Competition is important? Encourage outside competition.
  • Nurture learning via workshops and hands-on experiencing. Lectures deal with speaking. Teach people through doing. Who learns from doing – does.

In addition, a last tip. I, personally, prepared a short list based on these guidelines and it is presented in front of me every day, pasted on the wall in my study room. At least, once a month, I check myself to see that I did not turn to be an over-speaker in one way or another.

What will we benefit? First, more doing. Later on, more self-satisfaction; and in the end- probably better performance, to our organization, our families (if we took the tips that direction), or if we are lucky- then both.

It is worthwhile. Try it.



Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Time Management

Most of us are in a rush. We are always busy. We have to prepare a proposal for the day before yesterday, to give an answer to an open question for our boss, and we are three hours late, and to accomplish another mission within one day. We live in a "no time" reality. Once, we used to believe that this is a result of the bubble age, but the bubble exploded and yet we have no time. Still we experience requests ASAP; yet in every project, we work around the clock up-till the due date, and many times, even after.
Lee Iacocca, the former CEO of Chrysler Corporation, once said that the ability to concentrate and smartly take advantage of time- is everything.
Without being as smart or successful as Iacocca, I could not agree more. I feel, on a personal level, that time is a most precious resource, and in some cases, more important even than money.
Time is a misleading resource. On one hand, it is limited; there are only 24 hours every day. On the other hand, many times, those people who seem to be busier than others are, find the time to take additional responsibilities, much more than other, less busy people.

It is important to manage time as managers, twofold:
First, the knowledge work is characterized by handling many tasks and working in parallel. Even, if we are under the impression that we are handling one task, it usually includes many sub-tasks, and these do not tend to be processed one after the other. We, as managers, surely have more than a handful of tasks, whenever examined.
Secondly, we manage people, who have to know how to manage their time, by themselves. It has already be written, that knowledge workers manage their own routine. We, as their managers, have to give them the right tools to manage the time, and to find ways to assure they actually do so.

A few tips I can share, for managing time, based on my own experience:
  • To understand that feeling busy and being busy are not exactly the same thing. One of the reasons that some people tend to overload themselves with additional tasks, and do succeed in carrying them out, is based on them not living with the feeling that they have no time. Coping with the feeling of "no time", is sometimes more demanding that actually having no time.
  • Defining regular and steady hours, in which we read and handle Emails. Reading every Email, as it arrives, disturbs and interferes our concentration. It harms, both the source task being produced and the Email now arrived.
  • Define in advance (and teach the employees to do the same), for every task that is meant to take longer than an hour, the time we are willing to invest in performing it. We tend, many times, to invest more, in order to achieve the highest quality level we can. In many cases it is not worthwhile the effort. In other words, we put more than the organization, or the customer, wants us to. As in other situations, dear Pareto, plays a significant role (20:80) in advising us where to stop. However, it is not good enough only to plan efforts. We must assure we do what we praise. We must assure we do not only plan, but also finish tasks within the frame time defined. Defining time is already a first step in helping us managing our time better. Our will to fulfill is the second step. Performance is the third.
  • Work on tasks and complete them, as soon as they arrive (after finishing the previous ones we already started). I usually say that starting earlier does not mean I spend more time on a task. Vice versa. When the issue is fresh, it is easier and faster for us to work on it and complete it. We also save time of managing all open tasks, if we keep a clean table.
  • Assure ourselves, that we leave time for handling, not only the urgent, but thee important as well. Handling the urgent wears us out. Handling important tasks is sometimes more important, both for the organization and both for us as individuals.
  • Define frame times in the calendar for working on tasks that we do not find any other time for completing. If we are strict with ourselves and do not cancel these self meetings, time after time, we can clean-up the table, from time to time, and restart managing better our time, every time we think things go out of control.

In addition, one last tip: See that your people take vacations. For us, as an organization, it is cheaper that they work and we pay them for these days. For their sake, see that they really take vacations. That will give them the strength to go on. That also, is part of time management.

Some wise person (unknown) once said: "Two facts about time management: a) you cannot control the time you are born or the time in which you die. b) all points between the two, are negotiable."
Probably we can control most. Let us take advantage and indeed do.