When people think about their value to their company and to their manager in particular, the tendency is certainly to create a scoreboard that lists all of the accomplishments over whatever period of time. We have grown accustomed to measuring our value based on what we deliver. While it is true that our productivity is one meaningful contributor to our overall value, it is not the only one. And if you are not aware of how you drive value, chances are you are leaving opportunity on the table.
Most of us in corporate America are overworked. The list of things we are responsible for far exceeds that which we are capable of doing. In the best of times, the most we can hope for is to keep all the balls in the air and all the plates spinning without any real calamitous drops. This is especially true for managers.
Because we all have so much going on, the most important commodity than any of us has is our own time. Anything that takes away from that time is impacting our ability to knock off our top priorities.
How does this intersect employee value?
The problems associated with time management are particularly acute for people in management positions (careful here to distinguish management and leadership, as you can be a leader without being a manager). Managers typically have to deal with some workload, along with the administrative duties of managing a team. Where individuals can usually focus on a few projects, managers have to split their focus across all projects.
Of course as soon as a team expands beyond a few people, the total number of team projects quickly outpaces the number of projects that a manager can actively track. There is a reason that people talk about low- and high-maintenance employees. It’s not just about personality; every moment you have to spend on something is a moment you don’t spend on something else. This is why employees that require constant care and feeding get labeled.
As an employee, what does this mean to you?
First and foremost, be aware of how much time you consume. This is not a recommendation that you ought to stop talking to your manager. In fact, your time consumption might not even be dominated by the conversations you have with your boss.
As a manager, the single-most important thing to me is the ability to delegate something. I have enough projects on my plate that I simply cannot give equal attention to each one. The thing I covet most is the ability of my team to just take care of something. When a project can be done and I do not even have to check in on its status, that saves me a lot of time.
When I truly know something is take care of, I can delete emails after only cursory glances. I can avoid meetings because I know my team has it covered. I can think about other problems. I can spend my time devoted to everything else. When a project is absolutely covered and I don’t have to worry about it, the thing I get is not a great project – it’s time. Each one of these returns time to my day – time that can be spent focusing on people or issues… or even my family. The outcome here is nothing short of magical.
How do you tackle projects?
Now consider how you tackle projects. For most people, your instincts are to deliver as much as possible. You take on more work than you can handle. You believe inherently that your boss wants to hear the word “Yes”, so you rarely push back on projects. And to be fair, there are a lot of managers out there who really do want to hear “Yes” all the time.
By approaching work with the underlying assumption that doing more stuff makes you more valuable, you are missing a key underlying tenet of management. If you take on 10 projects, all of which require your manager to observe and track, you aren’t returning the most valuable commodity to your manager.
This dynamic plays itself out an awful lot, especially in the high tech sectors where work is carried out in from of a keyboard. In jobs that require physical labor, workers cannot overextend themselves. Physical exhaustion is usually an insurmountable barrier. This is why we have regulations that limit the time you can work in these positions without a break.
But as soon as the effort switches to cognitive, it is somehow ok to work 80 hours a week.
Employees mistakenly think that this is the path to success. Showing dedication will surely set you apart! As a manager, I absolutely appreciate the effort. But what I see on the other side is slightly different.
Close but not complete
Imagine that you pull 80-hour weeks to deliver a bunch of somethings. If each one is 98% done, I have to inspect every project you are working on. Even small shortcomings force me to invest time in everything. And because I am not the expert in the project, it’s not like I can just go straight to the last 2%. I have to dive in somewhere and figure out where that 2% is. This is time-consuming. And the feeling I am left with is disappointment.
As an individual, you think are you doing a smashing job, but as a manager, I just know that every project needs my intervention. The lack of completion or precision gets far more attention than anything else.
Obviously, in a perfect world, you would get both the crazy productivity and the precision together, but in the imperfect world in which we live, which should you optimize for? If you are truly interested in being a standout, you ought to at least consider optimizing for precision.
Would you rather be known as the person who does a lot of stuff that is almost right? Or the one who nails every deliverable?