Optimising Productivity - The Difficult Art of Stopping

#leadershipdevelopment performance May 25, 2022

As the business environment gets more and more difficult optimising productivity is increasingly important.  You cannot afford to waste any time on projects that do not contribute to your corporate survival.  That means taking a long hard look at all the things that the organisation does and eliminating everything that does not add value.  Mature organisations have the ability to stop projects that they cannot resource.  It’s a very rare skill but one that makes the difference between successful and unsuccessful organisations, especially when times are hard.

 “The trouble with my Exec team” said one wise Chairman to me “is that they just can stop doing things”.  And it’s not just the corporate world.  All government departments are plagued by it.  Our schools and hospitals are a breeding ground for the pet projects of politicians and bureaucrats.  Every time a government changes a new policy arrives, we layer changes upon changes.  Another day, another target. In the process the primary aims of educating children and healing the sick become lost as administrators game the system to meet their targets and keep their jobs. 

 Why are we so addicted to more and more newness?  Well, it’s exciting, it gives the impression of progress when all you have really done is add to a list of the unachievable.  And it’s become what we expect of leaders.  How many new CEOs are pressured to deliver in their first 100 days – at a time when they cannot know enough to make a sensible decision.

 I use the word “addicted” deliberately.  It is fairly easy to become addicted to excitement and busyness and it’s a hard addiction to break both personally and corporately.

There are ways of ending the addiction.  They are not easy but may be the difference between success and failure for your business. 

  1. Identify what projects are vital to your customers and the survival of your business. These are the must does. Rank them, can they all be done at once with the resources you have available?  If not, then prioritise them.
  2. Of the other projects are there some that could genuinely enhance your business success? Put these on a list and do them in order after the vital projects.
  3. Bin everything else and take away all resource. This is harder than it sounds. One of the most interesting things about projects that you think you have stopped is that they somehow manage to continue because someone thinks they are important. Even if they are carrying on in their spare time there is still a cost to your business (and the individual).  Stop means Stop.

You will be amazed how much more efficient your business becomes when your people are not demoralised, running around in circles, and working in their spare time.  It won’t feel as exciting as all the busyness but it will be a lot more profitable.