In a recent article by Stever Robbins, a Harvard Business School graduate, suggests that the time has come to change American work ethos towards working smarter, not longer.
Many have wondered why other western countries seem to get along just fine, even though they work far less than we do. Having worked with many European companies in this industry for years, we are forever amazed that in most of Western Europe there are mandatory rules for four to six weeks of vacation and more public holidays than we have here in the States. And yet, The Economist, a well-respected world economic magazine, suggests that when it comes to productivity, "France wins, working only forty hours with lots of vacation."
This got us thinking about the digital printing industry. In our conversations and dealings with clients in the print world, it seems as if everybody is working long hours, accomplishing less, and being generally unhappy with the results. It’s as if we’re working harder and harder to accomplish our goals, but the conclusion must be that we’re not working smarter, just longer.
For years, we’ve been counseling client vendors that there are some customers that they just need to walk away from. We all have these customers—the very high maintenance ones, who take our time and deliver minimal if any profits. That’s not to say that some low profit customers aren’t worth it, if they go about their business well.
But others demand too much hand holding, favors, exceptions, and the like, to be worth it. Wouldn’t it be better if we were able to spend more of our time generating good business rather than bad? And, as the digital business becomes more competitive, wouldn’t it be nice to find a way to stand out from the pack and do better more easily?
If by working smarter we can get better results in less time, then we’ve accomplished something. To get there, we have to change the speed at which we do things, provide more focus to what we need to accomplish, and organize ourselves to do things in parallel, not sequentially.
Steve had a relevant personal perspective when he left senior management in a large digital imaging company to become an independent consultant. "Over the first six months, I felt as if the weight of the world had been lifted from my back. It was as if I had tripled my capacity for work. This happened for a number of reasons, all of which freed my time, and improved my ability to perform."
"I managed my own schedule, rather than having the organizational needs manage it for their own objectives.
I did not have to sit in meetings that took far too long to accomplish their purpose—much of the average work day. I wrote and edited my own reports, rather than using an administrative assistant to finalize them for me. I answered my own phone and made my own calls. And finally, I had time to think and plan rather than just react."
"It wasn’t that I became smarter after becoming a consultant, just that I had the time to use the information and resources I had. But, having more time isn’t the end, it’s just the beginning."
Working Smart is Risky
If you work more productively, and have more leisure time, that’s great. But, if you take on more commitments, and once again, become overloaded, then nothing has been accomplished. Being too tightly scheduled means that you have less time to react to schedule changes and other issues beyond your control, and even worse, you lose the ability to translate smarter working habits into a higher quality of life.
One way in which managers begin to get out of this rat race is to define and block out personal time. For example, you may say that on Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, from 8a.m.
to 12p.m. you will not take calls or emails, except for emergencies. During this time, you begin to put yourself into a pattern where you eliminate distraction and build momentum, as if you’re sprinting to finish a race and concentrating so hard that you don’t even hear the crowd cheering. You may not get to spend all of this time as you’d wished, but setting it aside and beginning to use it fruitfully eventually gets the organization and customers to better understand when you can communicate meaningfully. However, there is no room in this process for procrastination. When you are back into normal mode, you must return important calls and emails promptly.
Where do you start? Perhaps just a little thought about the 80/20 rule will help. We all know that 20 percent of our customers typically produce 80 percent of our results. If you could figure out what it is that makes for a good client, and concentrate on how to get more of them, whether this is just better salesmanship, or developing new products, wouldn’t the company be better off?
And, if those customers could be more profitable with less time, you can see how this fits into our agenda about better business and improving the quality of life. Saying no to certain customers gives you the time to find and say yes to the right ones. Think about how much better the bottom line would be if you could get ten percent better at prospecting, rather than being driven by prospects.
Another possibility is to do a better job of delegation. By enrolling others into the process, other tasks can be completed while you get your work done. But first you must make sure that the others have the time, knowledge, tools, and other resources to do the job well. If not, this can just add more unproductive time to your plate.
A third way you could save time is by working opportunities in parallel. No, we don’t mean doing more multi-tasking or taking on more responsibilities. That process can add a new layer of confusion, and time spent in review, rather than actually improving the situation.
Our intention is to suggest you process projects in the most effective manner. For example, suppose you came back from a meeting with a new client or partner and needed to get two things accomplished quickly, the first, a business plan for the new arrangement, and second, a report detailing the agreements/conclusions that came from the meeting. By doing the report first, you can pass that to the client/partner and management for review while you start working on the business plan. By doing the work in this order, you get the earlier feedback that will help to complete the plan from two sides while you are still working on it, rather than later on. This is also a big opportunity when dealing with divisions and partners in other time zones. By making sure that you send requests for information by the end of your day, you can get responses that improve your efficiency tomorrow.
Thinking about working in parallel brings up our final thought on working smarter in this business. Business opportunities might also be available in parallel, perhaps another sales channel, for example. We have one digital print market client that significantly increased his profitability without the need to increase staff very much by developing a parallel sales channel. In this case, he determined that 50 percent of his margin came from selling his component in a product solution and 50 percent from selling another vendor’s component as part of this full system. By formulating a parallel OEM channel where their product could also be sold by others in their own system solutions, the client was able to significantly improve margins overall, and become the leading supplier of this technology in the marketplace.
It Takes Practice
We know that taking the time and energy to work smarter doesn’t just happen—it too takes work. But think of the real benefits to you and your company if this process is managed properly. Take the time to think about how you spend the day. Wouldn’t you like to work faster, accomplish more, and feel empowered? And if you do this well, not only will the company benefit, but you will too with more time and energy spent away from the workplace.