Get Less Busy

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People in our workforces are under serious strain.  They are constantly being asked to do more with less. Our businesses and government departments are responding to the austerity drives by trimming more and more from their budgets, which inevitably means fewer people are left to do the work. Meanwhile the demands are increasing. With everyone in the economy tightening their belts, company profits are falling, which means that a smaller and smaller workforce is being challenged to work smarter, harder, more innovatively and to ‘keep their chins up and stay engaged’.

In the midst of this, what are our leaders getting up to?  Well, from what I can glean, I see leaders who feel a great deal of responsibility for this state of affairs, and who are responding by working themselves harder and more intensely than ever.

The irony is, that at this time, perhaps more than ever before, our leaders need to be making themselves much less ‘busy’, and focusing more than they ever have done on nurturing their workforce.So, what can we be asking our leaders to be thinking about right now that will help them to do just that?

  • Don’t fill your diary up running from meeting to meeting so that you have no time left for your people
  • Build in time to your day to ensure you are connecting with your people. Keep your finger on the pulse and the mood of the ‘shop floor’.
  • Be there for your people to drop by (and ensure they feel comfortable about doing so)  n.b.  They won’t come back if they detect you checking your watch, or casting glances over their shoulder at the wall clock because you have to be getting on.
  • Make your people feel like they are the most special people in the world (they are aren’t they?)
  • Don’t assume  people agree just because they nod.  That is not agreement. Check understanding. You can spot engagement – people ask questions, their eyes sparkle, they display behaviours that suggest they want to get started on things now! If you don’t get this you may have – at best – compliance. 
  • Don’t give responsibility and then check up on things ten times a day. Agree up front, what seems a reasonable check-point structure. Let this be a negotiated agreement. The person may want daily or weekly checks – depending on their experience or the complexity of the task. Stick to it, and don’t feel the need to meddle further. Of course, make it clear that they can come to you at other times if they feel they need to, but once they have the ownership, make sure they know they have it. 
  • If others in the organisation still insist on coming to you to get information or get things done, make it clear that they should consult with the person who now ‘owns’ the task. In other words do not collude with others in undermining their authority. If you trust them, then so should others. Display that trust openly and do not confuse matters by having two channels of communication. 
  • Ask more questions than anyone else in the team?  Make it clear that you don’t know stuff and that it’s fine not to. Asking good questions, and getting the team to think, is more valuable than leaders coming up with solutions and expecting people to carry out orders. This will encourage more learning and growth.  
  • Be prepared to get your sleeves rolled up and get in amongst things when required. It’s fine to be a ‘player-coach’ if you have the skills, but make sure it is clear which role you are adopting at any given time. Don’t ‘start the game’ by agreeing that you will sit on the bench, and then, without warning, appear on the field of play. It will upset the team’s balance, and will leave people questioning what is going on.  Equally, if you choose to play, then play. You are now part of the team. Don’t try being the manager while executing the moves. You’ll end up doing neither well, and leave others confused and frustrated.
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    Don’t take the task back at the end, neatly packaged, and then take the credit yourself. Equally important, provide air-cover if things turn nasty.  Remember, you still ‘own’ this, so don’t hang new people who are learning ‘out to dry’. Of course, they need to feel some of the heat – that’s part of the learning – but make sure they know they have your full support. 

  • Ensure people receive the credit and congratulations for a job well done. Provide the opportunity for them to report back and front it up.
  • Ask them who helped?  This was a great tip pointed out by Leadership Freak. I love this. It establishes early on for people, that recognition for all help is important. Role model this, so that everyone shares the credit appropriately, and celebrate the shared success.

So, what we can be asking our leaders to think about, is whether they need to ‘get less busy’ with the ‘background noise’, and more focused on developing and nurturing their people. That’s the likeliest route to a more productive, more effective and more engaged workforce, and, as a result, a more sensible and sustainable existence for our leaders.

If you would like to explore ways to maximise your effectiveness as a leader or further develop the leadership skills of your people, do please get in touch. Simply send your details through the Contact Us page. I will be delighted to discuss further with you. 


3 thoughts on “Get Less Busy

  1. Louis, a very useful checklist of practical things that Leaders can be asking themselves during these difficult times.

    From my experience it is during these difficult times that these types of questions tend to go out of the window and all sense of management and leadership go out of the window as ‘panic mode’ sets in.

    I particularly like your example of rolling up the sleeves and joining in with the team and how to properly do this without taking over or causing more problems – something that is often a core desire where Leaders want to get involved but do not necessarily know how best to do this.

    For me the most important thing for Leaders to think about during such difficult times is ‘what is happening in the business and how best can I support this?’. This might look like rolling up sleeves – but, in my experience, this means giving more ‘leadership’. By this I mean recognising that people are more anxious and need more reassurance, encouragement etc.

    It also means that everyone else will be much more focused on getting things done in more of a panic and, as an old management saying goes, “a leader acts as the calm in the storm and creates the storm in the calm”.

    Here executive management is critical to keep the organisation focused on driving performance through the strategic direction (or revising this where necessary) and ensuring everyone remains committed and focused to achieve this together.

    In tough times when all hell is breaking loose someone needs to keep the drum beating to sound out the time to keep everyone else moving together.

    A key element here for performance and well-being comes out of what you recognise is the normal response, Louis – for people to work harder, longer etc during these times….which invariably does more harm than good. Veronica Burke (My Course Director at Cranfield University) looks at the similarities of business performance and sport and the lessons to learn therein. This looks like ensuring that we have sufficient training, nourishment, recovery etc. if we are looking for sustainable performance.

    For me, this is the very key thing that a Leader should be looking to do in these times – rather than slipping into ‘don’t panic Mr Manwairing’ mode our Leaders need to recognise the challenges they face and make the necessary changes to keep businesses working as effectively and efficiently as they can. This is about holding leadership and management nerve – something that will steady the rest of the troops and ensure that proper management remains in place to make the best of whatever situation on finds oneself in.

    As such, I would actively encourage Leaders who are finding themselves or others in this position to ‘stop’ and ‘think’ – take a moment to look at the battle plan, clear your heads and make sure that all of your men and women are fighting for your businesses in the best way they can. Slipping into panic mode and wearing yourself and your teams out may get you some short-term gains….but this storm is going to take some time to weather so we need to have a longer term plan.

    Given this – some great questions here to get Leaders refocused on what it is they do best and how they do it!

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