Change Implementation Techniques for Creating a Sense of Urgency

Technique 2.65 Analyse the Way We Work

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"...these days we walk fast, talk fast, drive fast, think fast, even diet fast. Time is at a premium, and most of us are afflicted with hurry sickness..."

Robert Kriegel et al, 1996

We all say that we are too busy and if we only had more time to do things, but the fact is that we all have 24 hours every day!!!!! What we are often avoiding is taking the time and effort to prioritise.

The powerfulness of this technique is that it makes you question the way you spend your time at work. For example, on average, managers get around 90 hours per week of information to read; over 80% of this is paperwork, yet most paperwork (50%) is unnecessary and can be eliminated by asking the following questions:

. Does the paper/report provide value to the clients in terms of improving quality or service?

. Does the paper/report improve productivity or costs?

. Does anybody read the paper/report and, more importantly, does anyone act on it?

. Is someone else already doing the same work/activity?

. Can any other person, department organisation do it faster, better or more easily?

Get rid of it, if it doesn't:

. Add value to the product or customer

. Improve quality

. Improve services, making you more responsive to the customer

. Improve productivity, by cutting costs directly

. Improve communications

. Increase employee motivation or morale

. Encourage innovation

. Speed up decision-making

. Satisfy a legislative requirement

NB Even though this tool looks at the way you work, it can be expanded to look at your work/life balance; in addition to work, the other categories, such as family, social, exercise, community, entertainment, hobbies, etc can be included.

Time (see time management)

Importance of Time Management

"...the most valuable resource that most companies have is the time of their employees......yet they are typically far less professional about managing time than they are at managing their financial assets..."

The Economist, 2010

"...productivity and success......are based a lot of time on insights and prioritisation and are actually based on doing the right thing, not necessarily on 15 hours work days..."

Susan Wojcicki, CEO, YouTube as quoted by Jonathan Mahler, 2015

A great time waster is emails, ie 

"...It is estimated that the number of external communications a manager received has increased from around 1,000 a year in 1972 to around 30,000 in 2014..."

Bain & Company

. Time is integral to analysing the way we work. Remember: time is a unique resource. One cannot rent, hire, buy or otherwise obtain more time. The supply of time is totally inelastic: no matter how high the demand, the supply will not increase. Furthermore, time is totally perishable and cannot be stored. Yesterday's time is gone forever and will never come back. Therefore, time is always in exceedingly short supply. Time is totally irreplaceable, ie there is no substitute for time yet everything requires time. Yet most people take for granted this unique, irreplaceable and necessary resource

. To have effective management of your time, you first have to know where it actually goes. Using one's memory is not an accurate indicator of how time was spent

. Systematic and accurate time management involves identifying and eliminating non-productive, time-wasting activities by asking the following questions:

- what would happen if this was not done? If the answer is nothing, then eliminate the activity

- what activities can be done by somebody else? This involves delegation, ie somebody else performing the activity

- how much time do you spend with others that wasted their time/effectiveness? Check with your staff on this

. Some major time wasters include

- the lack of systems and foresight that results in the same crisis recurring

- over-staffing results in staff having time to play "office politics", etc

- excess meetings, ie if staff find themselves in meetings that take a quarter or more of their time, this is significant wasting time (see below)

- malfunction in information (channels and flows), ie staff who need the information to make decisions do not receive the information when required

. Negative impact of interruptions

- a recent study of business people demonstrates that those who were interrupted every 11 minutes took 25 minutes to return to their task!!!!!!

- Other research (John Medina as quoted by Michaela Whitbourn, 2010) shows that interrupted workers take 50 % longer to complete tasks and make up to 50% more errors.

. It is easy to see how few people are focused at work. Furthermore, it has been claimed that the average Australian business traveler spends about half their working time in meetings.


Is work becoming like a cult, ie

- Are you expected to spend large amounts of your time and energy to work?

- Do you spend more time with your work colleagues than anyone else?

- Are your family and social relationships suffering?

- Has work taken over your life?

If you answer "yes" to any of the above questions, then you are allowing work to dominate your life. Work does help satisfy our basic needs of food, shelter and survival. On the other hand, we are encouraged to also seek happiness through work. One of the first questions we ask someone new is "Where do you work?"


"...has eaten up all the available space in society and become the defining institution, taking over from religion, family, politics and culture..."

Catherine Fox et al, 2012

"...Workplaces.....have become the main places for us to negotiate identity and status, and where we connect with others......For many people, paid work provides a sense of purpose as well as a way of earning a living..."

Catherine Fox, 2012

On the other hand, improvements in technology, especially automation, digitalisation, etc was expected to reduce amount of time needed to work and give more flexibility. It has given more flexibility with people able to work from home, etc..

Yet people are spending more and more time working on work with technology like computers, mobile phone, internet, etc allowing access 24/7!!!!

"...never have so many performed so much extra work so cheaply and so willingly..."

Gideon Haigh, 2012

Furthermore, the tools we use for work overlap with leisure, ie laptops, smartphones, Google, iPads, Google, iChat, Skype, Twitter, apps of all kinds, etc. This creates a fuzziness in the boundaries between work and leisure.

Work has become more sedentary and less healthy with less physical activity. This physical inertia at work leads to lower levels of fitness, ie

"...According to the CSIRO, sports and outdoor activities are down 22% over the last decade, while recreational screen time has increased 6%; the number of obese Australians is forecast to rise from 4.5 million to 6.5 million within 20 years: physical inactivity also correlates positively with depression, stress, anger and distrust..."

Gideon Haigh, 2012


.Busyness has nothing do with achievement, ie you can be busy on the wrong things. Busyness is not about getting the right things done; it is about merely doing things, which maybe a great waste of time and energy. It is linked with 2 forces, ie problem of transferring the efficiency from the organisation to the worker, and secondly, the amount of information coming in, through Email, etc. On the other hand, interruptions by other staff are more time consuming than electronic interruptions

It is of interest to note that in 1965 house-work took an average of 40 hours a week (Ed Smith, 2015). Then came the acceleration society (labour-saving technology which has delivered free time, has been accompanied by a rise in the feeling of stress and lack of time); being busy has become a style of living
Busyness is a symbol of success; on the other hand, it is a symptom of urgency and can become a sense of anxiety
Social media adds to the problem of busyness by expanding the range of potential social events to an almost infinite situation, so that it makes it more likely that the status quo feels inadequate

Administrative Clutter or Organisational Complexity

Most office staff suffer from a "mass of clutter" or "organisational complexity", ie bulging inboxes, endless meetings, long list of objectives to achieve, masses of e-mails to answer, too many layers of management, the size of organisations with empire building, the number of markets operating in, increased competition, etc. For example, adding a new middle level manager creates enough extra work for 0.5 an assistant; adding a new senior executive creates enough extra work for 1.5 assistants

For decades now manufacturers have successfully streamlined their factory floors, ie made them lean. This approach needs to be applied to the office as organisational complexity has increased 6-fold since 1955 (The Economist, 2014i). This can be characterised by the explosion of performance imperatives. In 1955, there were between 4 & 7; now there are between 25 to 40, ie respecting the environment, encouraging diversity, handling different stakeholders, etc

Another form of clutter is meetings. Some estimates of time managers spend in meetings is up to 50%. Many meetings have no clear purpose; the more senior you are, the worse it is. It is being found that creative thinking is reduced when the working day is punctuated with meetings

"... They did far better if left to focus on their projects without interruption for a large chunk of the day, and had to collaborate with no more than one colleague..."

Teresa Amabile as quoted in The Economist, 2014i

The 3rd form of clutter is e-mails. It is estimated that the number of external communications manager received has increased from around 1,000 a year in 1972 to around 30,000 today (Bain & Company). Every message imposes a "time tax" on receiver and sender.

Ways to handle "clutter" include

- GE (global conglomerate) is encouraging a "culture of simplification" to cut their overheads from a peak of 18.5% of revenues in 2001 to 12% in 2016

- Siemens (global conglomerate) is abolishing one management tier and reducing the numbers of divisions below it

- Ford (car maker and seller) in 2006 did an audit of all its meetings. As a result, it significantly reduced the numbers of meetings and instructed managers to "cut out the crap".

- Intel (computer chipmaker) does not allow meetings without a clear purpose

- Lenovo (Chinese computer maker) allows staff to halt meetings that are going off track

- another organisation made savings equivalent to cutting 200 jobs by restricting the length of meetings to 30 minutes and limiting the number of attendees to 7.

- Intuit and Altassian (software firms) allow workers a regular quota of "clutter free" time

- VW (car maker and seller) encourages staff not to read work e-mails after hours

- Boston Consulting Group (consultancy) has introduced guidelines which encourage staff to go off-line in the evenings

- Seagate Technology (data storage company) and Boeing (aircraft maker) both hold executives accountable for the organisational load they impose on staff in terms of meetings, memos, initiatives, etc, and measure them against their peers


"...the most valuable resource that most companies have is the time of their employees......yet they are typically far less professional about managing time than they are at managing their financial assets..."

The Economist, 2014i


. Generally, people spend too much time in meetings. Meetings are like the hot air they produce, ie they expand or contract to fill the space available!!!!! To shorten meetings, make everyone stand and/or have meetings at the end of the working day or week, especially late Friday afternoon. It is claimed that meetings with no chairs last around a third of the time to make the assigned decision when compared with meetings with chairs!!!!

. Alternatively, use "meeting meters". Software has been developed that measures the actual cost of a meeting based on participants' salaries, room and equipment rentals plus miscellaneous expenses. It looks like a taxi meter and makes the same clicking noise as the dollars run up. An extra option includes a buzzer that sounds when the meeting's cost exceeds what it figures to produce. This meter has been used to demonstrate the cost when people are late for meetings and helps people to start thinking critically about the value of meetings.

Some other measures to speed up meeting and make them more productive include

- everyone to stand-up

- reduce all meetings to 1 hour

- have an agenda with time limits next to each item

- excuse yourself from meeting when not relevant to you

Reports and procedures

. Another time waster is the writing unnecessary reports and following procedures "blindly". Generally, they are incorrectly believed to control behaviour, ie enforce right conduct; are a substitute for judgment; an instrument for control by management. There is a need to regularly check whether reports and procedures are still needed. One way to test if a report is needed is to complete it but not send it. If the usual recipients do not complain immediately, then it can be safely assumed that the report is not required!!!!!


Take out your diary for the last 2 or 3 weeks and record the time you have spent under the following headings

. Value-adding (work that increases the value of products or services to an external client, and adds value from the external customer's viewpoint)

. Necessary (work that consists of tasks that are needed to be performed to keep the organisation or situation operating but adds no value to external customers, such as expense reports, travelling, handling governance and tax requirements, etc)

. Unnecessary ‐ re-work (work that is required only because something was not done properly the first time)

. Unnecessary - other than re-work (work that does not add value and is not necessary for the successful operation of the organization or group..)

. Not working but being paid, ie authorised or unauthorised (work that is authorised, such as holidays, vacations, breaks, etc and unauthorised such as waiting time, idle time, etc

A typical senior manager's allocation of work under the above headings is below. This demonstrates that minimal managerial time is spent on productive matters (value-adding and necessary work), while too much of the time is wasted (re-work, unnecessary work and not working).

organisational development change management

(sources: William Conway, 1992; Kriegal et al, 1996; Peter Drucker, 2001; Jerry Useem, 2006; Claudia Wallis, 2006; Bill Synnot, 1994; Jacqueline Lizzio, 2006; Robert Sutton, 2007; Michaela Whitbourn, 2010)


Some examples to make meetings more productive cont.

. Ford (car maker and seller) did an audit of all its meetings. As a result, it significantly reduced the numbers of meetings and instructed managers to "cut out the crap".

. Intel (computer chipmaker) does not allow meetings without a clear purpose

. Lenovo (Chinese computer maker) allows staff to halt meetings that are going off track

. another organisation made savings equivalent to cutting 200 jobs by restricting the length of meetings to 30 minutes and limiting the number of attendees to 7.


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