Byron's Babbles

Doing More With Less: Avoid Fake Work

Hey This guest post originally appeared on Forbes.

Doing More With Less: Avoid Fake Work

By Rodger Dean Duncan

In a question-and-answer session following a recent speech, I was asked the following question: “How should we respond when we’re constantly asked to do more with less?”

My answer might not have been particularly comforting, but it was honest: “The challenge to do more with less is industry agnostic,” I said. “Virtually everyone everywhere is being given that challenge. And I expect that will be an ongoing mantra far into the future.”

Judging by the expression on the questioner’s face, I suspect that wasn’t what he wanted to hear.

But I wasn’t finished. The good news, I told him, is that the “do more with less” challenge presents a golden opportunity for smart, proactive people.

Most anyone can do less with more. That’s a no-brainer. Doing more with less requires strategic sorting of priorities. It’s fairly common for business people to tell me that in their organizations “everything is a priority so, therefore, nothing is a real priority.” That’s the equivalent of saying you’re too busy driving to stop and get gas.

One of the most useful ways to sort priorities is to launch a relentless search for fake work.

Fake work is work that’s not explicitly aligned with the strategies and goals of the organization.

Now let’s be clear. Most fake work is not deliberate. Most fake work is perfectly well intended. People who engage in fake work—and that’s most of us at least some of the time, and some of us most of the time—just don’t notice that what they’re doing is not producing intended outcomes.

It’s not that people doing fake work aren’t busy. They’re often very busy. But they mistake activity for results. And working hard is not a barometer, because you can work very hard and still be building a road to nowhere.

You might be doing fake work because you were told to do it. You might be doing fake work because you’re rewarded for doing it.

Fake work thrives when needed results are not clearly and thoughtfully articulated. Fake work thrives when people don’t honestly challenge the value of their activity.

Companies often set expectations, write job descriptions, and review performance in ways that actually promote fake work. This means you can follow directions, complete your assignments, and even get promotions—while spending most of your time on fake work.

Here are some warning signs that people in your organization may be building a road to nowhere:

 People are unclear about company strategy and the things that are most important to accomplish
 The connection between strategy and work is fuzzy
 Hard work is failing to produce results that measurably matter
 Meetings lack clear purpose and seem to waste time
 Despite long distribution lists on emails, it’s unclear who really needs or uses the information
 Offsite meetings often provide distraction, not value
 Some projects suck up a lot of time and other resources, then die a slow death or are killed outright for lack of interest
 People do a lot of paperwork because, well, everyone does paperwork

Of course there are lots of other signs on the road to nowhere. You could make a list of your own.

Most people don’t want to do fake work. Most people want to feel that they’re making positive contributions to meaningful accomplishments.

Remember: Fake work can be invisible because it often masquerades as real work. (Real work is critical activity that explicitly aligns with key goals and strategies.) In this age of everyone trying to do more with less, it’s more important than ever to identify fake work, eliminate as much of it as we can, and replace it with real work.

Here are five quick tips for focusing on real work:

1. Be clear about strategy. Don’t mistake mission for strategy. Mission is about purpose. Strategy is the plan to accomplish the purpose. Make sure job descriptions explicitly focus on work that matters most.
2. Use meaningful metrics. A common cause of fake work is not knowing what results are required and when they should be achieved.
3. Beware the activity trap. Fake work prospers when people are uncertain about priorities. Don’t let busyness overwhelm emphasis. Again, focus on the work that matters most. For example, if a regularly-scheduled meeting fails to produce valuable results, remove it from the calendar.
4. Treat communication as a communal task. Check and double check to ensure that your message was received and understood. Seek feedback. Listen to it. Communication about work issues needs to be simple, clear, compelling, and often repetitive.
5. Understand the people around you. Some people have a knack for handing off projects just when the work gets hard and accountability is on the line. Others invent new projects to prop up their reputation. The key is to recognize how other people’s behavior can cause fake work, hen figure out how to avoid falling into the fake work traps they’re setting. Equally important—and possibly even more difficult—is assessing whether you are the one who’s creating fake work for others.

When you’re asked to do more with less, regard the challenge as an opportunity. Your strategic approach to priorities will set you apart from the complainers and establish a positive example.

That should come in really handy at promotion time.

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Rodger Dean Duncan is bestselling author of LeaderSHOP: Workplace, Career, and Life Advice FromToday’s Top Thought Leaders. Early in his career he served as advisor to cabinet officers in two White House administrations and headed global communications at Campbell Soup Company. He has coached senior leaders in dozens of Fortune 500 companies.

A Focus on What Is Working

The following is an excerpt from Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry by Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair

A Focus on What Is Working

By Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair

In a problem-based world, it is very challenging to keep a leadership focus on what is working. We believe that focusing on what is working matters as a practice that builds appreciative resilience. Leaders are bombarded by problems every day. A focus on what is working pulls them out of that mindset of problem- and deficit-based thinking to begin to see what is right and what is good inside a team or an organization. Joan worked for a president who made this a practiced part of her leadership. She started every meeting with the question “What do we have to celebrate?” As Joan and other leaders in the room shifted their mind-set to uplift the stories worth celebrating, the entire feeling in the room shifted. The thinking shifted from “We have problems” to “Yes, we have problems needing to be solved, but we also are doing some things right.” 

This particular leader had several catastrophic events occur within the organization in a short period of time. Joan always noted that she started every conversation during those very difficult times with some version of celebrating the skills of the people handling those events.

Focusing on what is working inside a team or organization builds resilience for the individuals and the group by constantly reinforcing a drive to be excellent, not because of fear, but because their successes are celebrated. Celebrating what is working is like depositing resilience into an emotional bank account for later use. This bank account helps leaders deal with uncertainty, fear, and stress. In a crisis, a leader can tell others, verbally or through action, that their jobs, livelihood, and reputation are on the line, or they can share what is working well and uplift the drive of people to repair and rebuild.

It takes a conscious and mindful effort to focus on what is working. It takes the practice of pausing and thinking through the situation from multiple perspectives and asking powerful questions. This practice is easier in hopeful times, and we suggest that these are the times to begin the practice. If leaders practice a focus on what is working in hopeful times, they will find it much easier to do when a crisis arises. It is difficult to focus on what is working in times of despair, yet it is possible if one has practiced in times of hope. As leaders move through the element or state of despair, it is very difficult not to assign blame, seek justice, dole out retribution, or withdraw. In forgiveness, one must hold what is working close to one’s leadership heart, because a focus on what is working and forgiveness are linked together. Without leaders focusing on what is working or on what is possible, forgiveness cannot happen. 

Focusing on what is working well is a practice that trains leaders to seek out the appreciative stance and, in doing so, discover what can be built on and taken into the future.

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About the authors 

Dr. Jeanie Cockell and Dr. Joan McArthur-Blair, co-presidents of leadership consulting firm Cockell McArthur-Blair Consulting, are the co-authors of Building Resilience with Appreciative Inquiry. The veteran consultants’ latest book explores how leaders can use the practice of Appreciative Inquiry to weather the storms they’ll inevitably encounter and be resilient.

Puzzling Leadership

As you know, the first step in putting a puzzle together is to look at the picture on the box to see what the completed puzzle will look like. As a leader, we need to have a vision (picture) of the final product, and what it is you are trying to accomplish. But, what happens when the puzzle pieces are blank and there is no picture on a box?

It is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to put a puzzle together if you do not know what the picture looks like. It is also difficult to be a good leader if you do not know what you are trying to accomplish. But, if there is a vision and plan the leaders can create the picture and paint the picture one puzzle piece at a time.

I witnessed this yesterday at our Carolinas gathering of our Noble Education Initiative 3D Leadership Program. Our theme for the day was “Setting The Leadership Table.” The main activity of the day involved telling the story. The only catch was that participants had to tell the story by planning and doing a luncheon telling the story of the North and South Carolina schools with the decorum, appetizers, salad, main course, and dessert. There was a budget provided and the participants had two hours to plan, go get supplies, prepare the food, decorate the room, and have their story ready for stakeholder guests to arrive for the luncheon. Here was the agenda for the day:

I loved the planning discussion that ensued. Here are phrases and things that were said that jumped out at me during the discussion:

Now, back to the puzzle metaphor. The participants decided to use a puzzle through line for the luncheon. Genius! Here’s the cool part; the same rules of making a puzzle applied to leadership and successful completion of the project. Here are the steps:

Step #1-Have a vision, know what you want to accomplish

Step #2-Get to know your group members. Interestingly, we talked about this in our “what did you learn” time afterward. It was discussed that the event would not have been near as successful back in January when the group came together for the first time.

Step #3-Identify leadership qualities you will need to be an effective leader

Step #4-Follow the guidelines

Step #5-Understand your importance, where you fit, and what you have to offer. This was a topic many reflected on following the luncheon.

So, here’s the deal: everyone had responsibilities and had to complete a puzzle piece and write the story for their school’s part of “Team Carolina.” I also was asked to complete a piece of the puzzle representing Noble Education Initiative’s (NEI) role in the puzzle of support for the Carolinas.

What we found was that creating the puzzle pieces for our puzzle used the same leadership principles needed for forming an effective team. When forming a group of individuals into a team, you must first figure out the following:

  • Strengths, What are the individual strengths of each one? How can the strength of one, build up the weakness of another?
  • Shape, What does each individual bring to the table as far as expertise and knowledge? Just like a puzzle piece each one will have something to share to the greater picture or vision your trying to create.
  • Edges, Which individuals define the shape and scope of your vision? There will be some that will have definitive edges that will build the foundation of your team, therefore making the picture clearer to all who view it.
  • Odd shapes, Which individuals appear, at first , not to fit into the picture? There will be those that don’t look like they are going to fit or add value to our vision or picture. Sometimes, these are the very pieces that end up truly fitting in and adding a lot of value to the team, making the overall picture clearer.

As I watched the participants put their pieces together and tell their school’s story, they did a great job of keeping the overall picture in view. So many times we lose focus on the overall picture and what do we do? We start to panic and cram pieces together. This is when we are no longer leading but are dictating and mission creep begins to take over. Or even worse, we begin to lose puzzle pieces, and we all know what’s it’s like to put a puzzle together with missing pieces.

The beautiful thing is, that when we do get all the pieces together we have created a beautiful picture, a real team (not just a bunch of individuals), and a true network of schools. How is your organization’s puzzle coming together?

“Big Boy” Leadership

This week I went to Nashville, Tennessee with a group of great colleagues from Noble Education Initiative to put on a day of professional development for Trevecca Nazarene University. The day was amazing, and there was some great learning that went on. Really it comes down to being student centric – whether that student is a college pre-service teacher or a pk-k-12 student in our schools. We must deliver our best each and every day.

Our professional development covered the topics of “A Day In The Life Of Our Indy Schools,” Social Emotional Learning, Restorative Justice, and our Eight Step Process for Continuous Academic Improvement. Plus, we started the day with Mr.& Mrs. Potato Heads and participants making their Potato Heads answering the question: what does education look like on you? At the end of the day, participants had the opportunity to reflect and change their potato head answering the statement: now I look like this. Here is the agenda we used for the day:

On the way down to Nashville we saw signs for Frisch’s Big Boy. Since all six of us seemed to have some affinity or fond memories of going to Frisch’s Big Boy, it was decided that is where we would eat on the way home. Needless to say, I was excited because there is just no better hamburger than the Super Big Boy.

On the way home it became quite fun searching for our Big Boy location. Of course, I became “Big Boy” because I am a “Big Boy.” And…I couldn’t wait to get my picture taken with the iconic Frisch’s Big Boy. In fact, the group was so kind to buy me one of the “Big Boy” banks. It is now a treasured item on my desk.

Then I got to thinking about the principles and core values that guided Dave Frisch, the founder of Frisch’s Big Boy restaurants. He founded on the idea of great food, a great work environment that was fun for employees, and a place of integrity. Who could argue with this?

As I did a little Big Boy studying. I found that Frisch’s Restaurants, Inc. use the value of being “Guest Centric.” Being in the field of education this was interesting to me because we use the term “Student Centered” a lot. I like the “guest centric” terminology better, however, because it refers to internal and external guests. The internal guests are employees. Frisch’s wants to provide its best service and support to its employees. I’ve always said in education we need put teachers first so we can put students first. I love that Frisch’s says, “We will be our best every time by delivering our best and being guest centric to our internal and external customers.” I believe this speaks to empowerment, engagement, and professional growth and development of staff, regardless of the industry we are in.

Frisch’s also has a core value of treating everyone as family (employees and customers), too. Their restaurants have a very diverse workforce and customer base. Frisch’s supports each team member through teamwork, coaching and development, fair treatment, and mutual respect.

Do you practice “Big Boy” leadership?