We (Americans) live in a “take action” culture, a culture of the “yankee work ethic” in which incremental effort and pressing the nose harder to the grindstone supposedly leads to success and rewards. We are also a culture of immediate gratification the “I-want-it-now-quick-fix-diet-pill-plastic-surgery-100% LTV loan” society.
Don’t get me wrong, those traits are to be admired when put to good purpose. They have helped to make us the innovative, industrious, can do leader of the modern world. But they can often (as in a crisis) work against us.
Here is the inevitable confusion: Because some hard work and immediate action (activity) might lead to desired results does not mean that ANY or MORE activity will increase the positive results. Too often the reality is that MORE IS NOT NECESSARILY BETTER. Thus we find ourselves stuck in the same old “stinkin’ thinkin:”
- Why only put in 40 hours a week at my job – wouldn’t 50 or even 60 get me farther?
- If we accomplished so much understanding in ONE meeting, wouldn’t 10 be better?
- If a sale can be made for every 10 calls on average, wouldn’t 100 calls be better?
And so on.
At first blush, this seems sensible. But from a performance perspective, it is insanity. There are three fundamental truths to performance in the workplace:
- It is the OUTCOME of the activity that matters.
- What people DO is important only as it relates to what they PRODUCE.
- You get only what you measure.
Combine these three and you begin to understand my point. If we focus on activity, if we measure activity, if we create the mentality that more activity is better, then what do we get? MORE ACTIVITY. Fortunately, some of that activity will drive results for us. Unfortunately, much of it will only inflict cost on our organization.
In the end, the difference between good and great organizations rests on eliminating wasted motion by focusing activity on producing valuable outcomes and then measuring those outcomes. If we measure time on the job, we get time. If we measure number of calls we get calls.
Think about your own organization: Do you REALLY need more activity, or do you need a measured approach where the ONLY activity we undertake is if clearly targeted toward producing a well defined outcome? Sometimes in business our personal lives and our nation, we would do well to pause. Perhaps our principle motto for times of crisis should be, “Don't just do something, stand there!”