Here is what you can do to increase organization-wide productivity in sustainable ways:
1) Make an explicit choice about a new way of working by clarifying the case for the status quo as well as the case for change. For example, the visionary Principal learned that he would need to limit the breadth of his aspirations at any one point in time in order to increase the depth of their impact. He recognized that he would need to think strategically about sequencing priorities over time instead of following each new possibility as it occurred to him. Alternatively, a hard-driving executive might need to shift her focus from doing whatever it takes to personally push for results to creating an environment where a significant majority of other people in the organization can succeed. Identifying the case for the status quo as well as for change sets up a conscious choice, one that must be made to initiate new ways of working and remade to sustain these behaviors over time.
2) Bridge the gap between a new way of working and your current behavior by implementing six strategies:
- Approach individual overload problems systemically. Look first to address such organizational issues as unrealistic or ambiguous goals, unclear or conflicting roles, unwieldy processes or procedures, and inappropriate rewards. Provide individual coaching only where these systemic levers are insufficient.
- Clarify a strategy that focuses priorities and limits annual goals. Limit the number of goals people have to focus on at any one time and sequence the achievement of many goals over time. Many successful organizations ask people to focus on no more than three goals at a time.
- Support people to make conscious agreements. Teach people to take on only what they can reliably accomplish and to push back responsibly and creatively when that is not the case. Establishing new goals also means being willing to critically assess and eliminate work that is no longer productive.
- Cultivate sustainable organizational energy. The best way to generate organizational energy is to connect people with a meaningful purpose by keeping the organization’s mission, vision, and values in the foreground. It is also important to create and support programs targeted toward renewing people’s energy on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels.
- Increase email and meeting productivity. Since email and meetings are enormously time-consuming and often wasteful forms of communication, we recommend that organizations treat these as resources to manage more effectively and efficiently on an organization-wide basis. Begin by auditing how they are managed now by examining their purposes, what is and isn’t working about each, and identifying ways to increase their productive use.
- Reinforce the “results and renewal” culture. The best way to promote a “results and renewal” culture is to run limited experiments based on the above five strategies to reduce organizational overload. An organization does not have to back off on challenging people to establish a “results and renewal” culture; rather, it must commit to achieving outstanding results by managing all of its resources, including its people, in sustainable ways.