This week marks the start of a new work experience for me. However, I’m still in the discovery phase, so I will write about it once I am more confident about the learnings.
The main focus of this mentorship, defined directly by the mentee as usual in my approach, is how to get things done.
It may almost seem a trivial question. But let’s face it: answering this question sits at the core of management as a discipline. Apart from being the central question of tons of books and articles, all trying to focus off efficiency.
There’s no one answer.
My first consideration on the topic is that anyone that tells you that there is only one possible or “best” way to get things done is simply a liar. As with many topics that cover Human Activities, our actions are a complex mix of contributions at work and in life. Personality, competence, learnings, experiences, relationships, inputs, resources, situations. You can say I’m a strong supporter of the concept of contingency here. However, this aspect, delegating the entire explanation of output to external conditions, is also a limited view.
My first learning on how to get things done is that there is no one answer. Each of us needs to define its metrics of success in reaching the outputs of their work. And understanding this is part of how we can express our success at work.
Why Efficiency is the Wrong Focus
A second consideration is that we are too often pushed in considering efficiency the main factor in getting things done. This is a second, dangerous mistake. Although it is entirely understandable, considering the consistent focus of management and self-help literature on productivity and self-performance.
Getting Things Done is a question of Effectiveness. Efficiency is simply meant to ensure you have adequate resources and less waste in the process.-
This concept has emerged vividly in yesterday’s session because the mentee focused their view on the idea of Value
produced by their work. The moment you understand that Value is not an absolute concept, but rather a relative one entirely based on the relationship
currently in scope, the idea of efficiency as the core measure of success immediately becomes less attractive. (one the concept of Value you should read The Value of Everything by Mariana Mazzucato
Performance or Productivity?
The above consideration also has a necessary consequence. Focusing on productivity is misleading, whereas our focus should continuously be on performance. The problem is that these two words are often used interchangeably.
Productivity is the measure of the efficiency of producing a specific output. In contrast, performance deals with how someone functions to accomplish something, which means that performance underscores the concept of effectiveness, rather than solely of efficiency.
Yet we have seen so often zillions of articles focused on personal productivity. All these descend from the idea that we can always improve our efficiency by using a method, a scheme, and “efficiently” using time and resources.
The reality is that all these elements are essential, but not sufficient to guarantee successful performances.
How often did you happen to meet a colleague or a partner, totally unorganized, not manage time, but always able to successfully reach an objective in the last available minute?
Getting Things Done Intentionally
I don’t trust easy recipes. Moving the focus from efficiency to effectiveness also means that most approaches that suggest this or that method of improvement, simply won’t work.
For me, there’s only one framework to keep in mind when thinking on how to Get Things Done. Thinking of four easy pillar questions that support our performance:
What? - what is that I need to achieve or produce? Having clearly in mind, this aspect is critical in both being effective and efficient.
Why? - what is the reason for doing this? We often bypass this step, but it is vital to understand it for our motivation and understand the expectations of those that will evaluate the outcome.
How? - what will I do to achieve the outcome? how will I control it? The how is one of the essential elements, and here yes, we can focus on improving the utilization of the resources we invest.
When? - time is the horizon in which actions happens, which is why I consider this a core element to define, not only in terms of deadlines but also in terms of “how much time should I invest in this activity”.
Each of us will intuitively be stronger in managing one of these four core questions. Building awareness on each will allow us to make us stronger in defining the results in terms of expected output and reasons, resources, and timeline.
Effectiveness sits at the top of these four pillars. If one is less developed, there will be stability issues, like in a wacky chair. Being aware of this will allow us to focus on what we need to get things done.