Most of us have learned that being busy does not mean you’re being productive and that multitasking leads to being less productive – although I still see that being harped as a “skill” on resumes and profiles. Leading organizations manage by clearly defined objectives rather than arbitrary and often unrelated work hours, enabling flexible workplaces that create additional value for everyone.
With that said, we still like deadlines and other time constraints. Used properly they enable progress and force decisions. Used improperly and arbitrarily, perhaps more common than not, they create chaos, stress, lower quality, and poor decision making. Where’s the balance? We often say that a sign of a good leader is knowing when there is sufficient information to make a decision – not too little and not waiting for too much. Under the stress inherent in most organizations, this often skews toward too little.
I’ve learned a few lessons over the years along these lines. In one situation we were trying to understand why there was a small but significant dip in quality on a machine that happened once and sometimes twice a day. We looked at data and tried to tie it back to machine parameters, with no success. We stood and observed the machine for two hours at a shot. Nothing. Then one day at the end of another observation session we were discussing what to investigate next when it happened: an unplanned operator rotation. We had detailed standard work and highly trained operators, but this observation led us to find a small difference in crossover communication that was not captured on the standard work and had an unexpected impact on the product.
We had decided on two hour observation sessions believing that was a limit of the ability of an observer, would align with break times, and we wanted results quickly. But it was not aligned with the process itself, therefore we were missing information.
An analogous situation happened to me a couple years ago. I had just read an article that mentioned a great way to show respect to homeless people is to simply take the time to talk with them. So on my next visit to a local market, instead of throwing down a buck in their bucket, I said “hi.”
Turns out the guy had a college degree and had owned a small one-person business in a nearby town, but lost it when he went bankrupt due to medical expenses. He has spent the last year trying to claw back, with his top priority keeping his cell phone so he could check email and make phone calls for potential interviews, which was difficult as he didn’t have a credit card or permanent address.
Taking the extra few minutes blew away the common misperceptions I had. Digging into it a bit more I discovered this driver of homelessness is very common and there are some organizations that now focus on providing that infrastructure, and some states have had remarkable success by simply providing housing.
One final example: my wife and I love to travel and have visited over 65 countries. For the last several years we’ve avoided the typical tourist itineraries and tried to focus on the people side of those countries, but they have still been relatively brief visits – just a few days to maybe a week or at most two. We know we’ve been missing a lot.
Our goal for future trips, hopefully starting next year, is to have longer and more open-ended itineraries. We’d like to go back to our favorite places and stay a month, perhaps longer, living in an Airbnb or home exchange. Tops on the list is Buenos Aires, Hobart, maybe Ljubljana or Dubrovnik. We’d settle in, wander around, meet people, and dive deeper into the area. Along similar lines, we’d also like to take a month a drive across the backroads of Canada, from Halifax to Vancouver, with no itinerary. If we liked some place, we’d stay an extra couple days.
Sometimes it’s necessary to slow down and dig deeper to get the real story. You might learn something new and unexpected, perhaps even about yourself.