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Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Are You Really Working? Why an "Effort Ethic" doesnt fly.

I had a great conversation with my operations gifted father on Sunday that revolved around the concept of work.  As he was asking me how my long days were going we dove into our real definitions.  I am not talking about effort here...I am talking about work.  If you remember from physics, Work is a product of force times the distance moved.  I am sticking to this definition literally for this discussion.  Work is not force or is force multiplied by the distance moved.  If you push all day you have put in a solid 8 hrs of effort, but if the block or project you are working on didn't guessed didn't do any work at all.  Many people in management forget this simple formula or never think of it this way.  This is why we hold fancy mba's and managers to task for the results they get in business.  20 hour "effort" days without tangible results are definitely an amazing feat and require huge sacrifices...but you will probably be looking for a job if you don't figure out how to get some actual work done.  Work requires real progress toward your goal.  Effort is just that...pushing.

In an r&d environment we cheat this rule all the time and can get away with calling effort "work" since the tangible progress is hard to measure in the early days of a concept or project.  But eventually, even the brain trust r&d guys have to come up with something sale-able and with impact for the business.  They can't just push all day.  They, like all knowledge workers have to produce a work product.  If you are digging ditches all day you can see the work you do piling up that used effort and moved the flippin dirt a distance....and you got paid to do it...check...all good.  As a manager of an organization of effort you have to deliver the numbers over time.  If you don't what are you doing all day with all that effort?  If you are not adding value to your organization and you are getting a managers paycheck there can be big problems despite the effort ethic that you have.

The disdain some people have for the legal profession or any bill by the hour service provider is based on this as well.  Look, a lawyer provides a valuable service in my opinion, accountants too....they save you enormous pain if you have a good one helping you in this complex regulatory and legal world we all do business in.  But in the end they get paid even when they push on the rock all day...even when no "work" has been done.  This is what ticks people off and it is why the choice of these service providers should be one of your most thoughtful decisions as you start a new business or manage your mature one.  Get someone who delivers tangible results and a work product.  If your law firm constantly delivers more questions than it answers, get a new one.  If they eliminate problems and clear your plate of issues that are distracting you...keep em.  If your accountant delivers tax advice that saves you money, bingo, work was done.  If the receipts are all organized and trouble free, your bookeeper did work too.  It is not the hours they spend on the task but the results they get you.  If they can do the job in half the time and spend the rest with their families they probably can charge high rates and have happy customers...don't be afraid of expensive help..they might just be that good.

I am always very cautious when someone works very long hours at their job.  Over the long run a quality thinker and worker gets amazing amounts of real work done in the allotment of time in a workday...super human effort is only temporary even in highly charged environments like start ups.  If I am putting in 20 hr days day after day my bet is that there is a lot of effort and not much work being done...a disaster in the business world as well as in your family life since you are never home.  Worse yet is the fact that you are never home AND you have nothing to show for it.  Ruin defined.

So if you find yourself working incredible hours and never quite getting the reward or praise that some get who are home early...think about the work you are doing, the real work.  Stop efforting so much and get to pays really well and is easy to spot.

Mark Smith

1 comment:

  1. Well said. I can appreciate your viewpoint and philosophy. I've spent a good amount of years in both management and maintenance, and I agree with you. Thanx for the reminder!