Can You Become A Better Manager By Doing Less?

Talent and hard work are not all that is required to get ahead
Talent and hard work are not all that is required to get ahead
Image Credit: Christina zur Nedden

As a manager, your goal at work is to get ahead. You want to be seen as a star performer who gets things done. You want your work to be viewed as being of the highest quality and you want your management to come looking for you when they have a slot open up for promotions. The big question that you are facing is the same one that we are all trying to answer: just exactly what do you have to do at work to be successful? It turns out that the answer may not be what you think that it should be.

How To Be Successful At Work

For most of us, we think that we know the secret to workplace success. It’s actually pretty simple: use your manager skills to work more. What this translates into is working 50, 60, 70, or even 80 hour weeks. We figure that if we put in more work, our work will improve, and we’ll get noticed the way that we want to be. However, it turns out that we are wrong. In fact, many of the people who do end up getting promoted don’t work those killer hours. The ability to get ahead has very little to do with your ability to organize or delegate.

What does matter is something called selectivity. No, there is no manager training for this skill. What this means is that the managers who are the most successful know how to select the tasks, priorities, customers, meetings, and ideas to work on and which ones they needed to let go. This next part is the key. Once they had selected what they were going to be working on, they applied targeted, intense effort on the few items that they had decided to work on in order to do well at them. Yes, yes – a managers level of effort, their talent, and even luck did play a role in their success. However, not as much as you might think.

When managers were studied, it turned out that just a few key ways of doing work that had to do with this selectivity thing were responsible for 2/3 of the variation in performance between managers. What all of this boils down to is that we need to make changes to our work habits, but how? We need to realize that hard work is not always the key to success, rather smart work is. We need to understand how the best managers do it. They apply what is called “Ockham’s razor”. This dictum states that the simplest solutions are the best solutions.

How To Do Less At Work

Managers need to take the time to look for the simplest solutions. You can tell what these solutions look like because their processes have the fewest steps, they involve the fewest meetings, require collecting the least amount of information, have the fewest goals, all while keeping what is really necessary. We have to be careful here. What can happen when we have removed all of the clutter from what we are working on in an effort to be more selective, it can be all too easy to add new items back in.

In order to be a successful manager you are going to have to learn yet another task. The ability to say “no”. This may be a problem when your boss shows up and attempts to get you to take on a lot of additional work. When this happens what you need to do is to ask them if they would like you to re-prioritize the work that you are currently doing and by doing so spend less effort on the tasks that you had discussed with them previously. What you are doing here is putting the decision process back on their shoulders. If you are able to maintain a narrow focus on your work by saying “no” when asked to do more work then your performance will be greater than other managers. What’s interesting here, is that the same thinking applies to how you manage your team. If you can set fewer priorities for your team then you should see better performance out of them. Fewer priorities allows more time for team building.

An additional task that successful managers learn to do is to orientate themselves around a project’s real value instead of focusing only on internal goals. You don’t want to spend too much time worrying about goals related to your work. Instead, what you want to be focused on is what value you are creating for your customers. This means that you want to focus on the key benefits that you’ll be bringing to your customers and not on what you’ll be getting out of doing this work. The best performing managers work about 50 hours a week. They outperform their peers because they cut back on the work that they are doing, they have the courage to say “no”, and they are always looking for ways to go after value. The best managers are innovators.

What All Of This Means For You

All managers want to get ahead. We want to be recognized for the high quality work that we do and we want to be the ones who are selected to be promoted. However, it’s never been very clear how to go about doing this. It turns out that simply working harder, working longer hours, will not accomplish this goal.

In order to be a successful manager what we do not need to do is to work longer hours. Instead we need to practice selectivity. We need to choose the right set of work and not choose too much of it. Instead of working harder, we need to start to work smarter. Our goal needs to be to look for the simplest solutions. Once we have found them, we need to be careful to not allow additional work creep back into our simple solutions. Often our management will come to us and want us to take on additional work. We need to learn the right way to say no to these requests. Finally, we need to be able to recognize what the real value of a project that we are working on is and focus on that, not just the steps that will be required to complete the project.

Managers who want to be able to get ahead need to learn to work smarter. We all have a limited amount of time in our day and so we need to discover what work we can get accomplished and then focus only on completing that work. Working on fewer assignments but doing a better job of completing them well will get us that promotion that we’ve been looking for.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: What do you think the best justification for saying “no” to your boss is when he or she asks you to do more work?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

So here’s a quick quiz for you. How many times each day do the members of your team take out their phone and look at them? It turns out that the answer is 2,617 times per day we all tap, poke, pinch, or swipe our phones. From a manager point-of-view, just exactly how much time does all of this take? The answer is 2 hours and 25 minutes each and every day. The bad news for you is that most of this is happening while your team members are at work!