During the early days at any startup company, there never seems to be enough time in a day. There is without question more work to be done than time and available resources will permit. And while this can improve over time with sales, funding and a larger team, the challenge of balancing time and effort is never completely eliminated in any successful company, regardless of size. To address this on-going challenge, you must begin to evaluate the productivity levels of your individual team and your company as a whole.
Productivity is defined as the level of output for a given input, taking into consideration all of the resources required to produce the desired result (e.g. direct and indirect human capital, time spent, equipment utilization, and all other related costs). The more output for a given input implies higher productivity. In order to achieve high levels of productivity, first you must ask yourself; can productivity be a taught and maintained behavior (aside from increasing productivity using automation and software tools)?
I believe that the answer is a resounding yes!
This BizGuide focuses on the overall productivity of a company. While there are some principles that individual members of your team can adopt to increase their productivity, there are more impactful measures that you as a CEO can implement to raise the level of productivity of the overall company.
I have outlined the key concepts that you should consider to ensure your company achieves a higher level of productivity:
- Work smarter not harder - It’s all about setting priorities, time management and efficient utilization of resources. Save yourself and your employees from drowning in their inboxes by leveraging SaaS communication tools such as Slack, Dropbox, Trello and Basecamp to share information across your organization. But don’t forget, in person communication trumps any piece of software. Be sure to emphasize the value of this to your leadership team to ensure there are open lines of communication across the organization.
- Be mindful of the performance/effort matrix – As the CEO, your main role is to evaluate the strength of your team on an ongoing basis. Here’s how to measure their value in terms of productivity:
- Low performance - Low effort – Lowest level of productivity; avoid hiring this person. And if you have hired this person, fire them.
- Low performance - High effort – This situation can be very dangerous to the overall productivity of your organization. While this employee or group shows dedication and hard work ethic, they are creating an illusion of success that does not exist in reality for your company. Make it clear to employees that you are measuring performance based on impact, not hours spent at their desk.
- High performance - Low effort – These high flyers are not likely to last in your organization for long. While they are punching above their weight class by meeting their assigned metrics they may not have the dedication to growing with your company over time.
- High performance - High effort – This is your ideal team member. Build a team that can achieve the objectives of the organization while dedicating themselves personally, through time and effort, to seeing the company through to higher levels of success.
- Assign the work to the person, not the person to the work – This is one of the most important principles for a company to follow. In order to increase personal work place satisfaction your team must feel a sense of ownership over the work they are responsible for. Their achievements will then be a reflection of the effort they put in. Ultimately this will result in the highest levels of productivity.
- Hire people that have no direct experience but are full of enthusiasm - Having not felt the sting of failure, this person won’t be limited by fear when trying to accomplish a new task and/or solve an unknown problem. Since they have no previous experience to cloud their judgment, they may be in a better position to find a different way to tackle a problem and offer an alternate perspective for solving it. A great example of the value inherent with this principle is associated with George Bernard Dantzig, who in 1939 while attending USC University at Berkeley, arrived late to one of his classes to find two math equations listed on the blackboard. Believing that this was the homework assignment, and without the knowledge that these were two previously unsolved statistical problems, he went on to solve both problems within days of working on them.
- Avoid the trap of the Parkinson Law – the concept of "work expands to fill the time available for its completion" was coined by Cyril Northcote Parkinson in a 1955 article published by the Economist Magazine. Avoid the trap associated with this principle by accurately defining the level of effort required to complete a task without tacking on too much of buffer. This extra time is often eaten up by procrastination and is counterintuitive to the principle of productivity.
- Touch it once principle - Once a task has entered the workspace of a company, or an individual, it should be addressed and placed in order of priority. To avoid revisiting the same task multiple times, divide your list of tasks based upon their urgency and importance. Only tasks that are both urgent and important need to be addressed promptly whereas other tasks can be dealt with under a subsequent order under a well-defined schedule.
By following the above guiding principles, a company will increase its potential to have a higher level of productivity, making the company more competitive amongst its list of competitors.
BizRule #10 Burn Your Boats. All of Them!
There will come a time when, as the CEO, you will have to make a hard and unpopular decision, which on the surface may appear counter intuitive to the broader prevailing opinions within your company. You may be faced with the option to position the whole company on a specific and uncharted path, one that might be painful but could lead to greater success. It is your duty as the CEO to make a choice and in the process remove all other options except the one believed to be best for the future of the company.
The concept of limiting options to a single one is not new and has been exercised numerous times in history. During the Battle of Julu in 208 BC, between the troops of General Xiang Yu and the Qin Kingdom’ soldiers, Xiang Yu ordered his troops to "Break the kettles and sink the boats”. By enacting this order, without tools to prepare food and boats to transport troops away from the battle field once the river was crossed, there was no way for the troops to retreat. The only option, short of surrendering and subsequently being executed, was to keep on fighting. The soldiers fought until they defeated the enemy and won the battle.
There are other occurrences in history of military leaders using this ancient Chinese phrase to motivate their troops to fight to the end by removing all options except “succeed or die”. During the Spanish conquest of Mexico circa 1519 AD, Spanish leader, Hernan Cortes, followed this mantra and ordered his troops to destroy their ships forcing them to either conquer new land or die.
Relating these stories to your current day role of the CEO, you may have to make a decision to choose between two painful courses of action. The first, one being the status quo, appearing to offer your employees more comfort even though it has severe limitations. The second option offers a radical change with an unknown outcome. Your team’s fear of the unknown may have them clinging to the path that they know best. However, it is your role as the CEO to encourage your team to take the leap of faith with you. By removing the escape hatch and leaving only one option you have the ability to focus the energy of your entire company towards a new course of action.
Jack Welch, Chairman and CEO of General Electric (GE) best exemplified the burning of the boats mantra with his burning platform process which he defined in one sentence as a mission to, “make GE the most competitive company on earth.”
When Jack Welch became the CEO of GE in 1980, he ordered a review of the 350 business units that were part of the GE’s empire to determine how the business units were measuring against their competitors around the world. He then made a decree that GE would only stay in businesses where the company held the number 1 or number 2 positions. GE got out of all other businesses where they were not performing as well as their competitors in the market place. In the face of opposition and concerns about his new plans, Jack Welch nonetheless forged ahead with, including divesting in noncompetitive businesses. During his tenure as the CEO of GE from 1980 until 2001, he transformed GE, from $25 to $130 billion of annual sales, and from $1.5 to $14 Billion in earnings.
While I believe that this approach is highly valuable, it must actioned selectively. We are in an age in which unlimited individual choices are available in every aspect of one’s life. In my previous blogs, I identified two BizRules that encourage the individual to commit to a course of action: “Are you a chicken or a Pig” and “Did you cross your Rubicon yet?” However, burning the ships instigates a macro level of change that, if done well, will transition your entire company onto a single path to success. Just remember, with this decision, there is no option to go back.
Edited by Jamie Keeley, Event and Community Manager, L-SPARK