If you did a survey of drivers I think that you would find that 80% of them consider themselves to be of above average capability. I know I fall into that category yet I am guilty of speeding (most of the time), rolling stops (often) and running yellow lights (sometimes.)
In reality, I am probably a below average driver and yet because I don’t get caught, I figure I’m above average. After all I have a friend (Tom are you there?) who gets caught speeding half a dozen times a year. He is definately below average.
But what about execution?
I figure its the same thing with execution. Most managers out there probably think they are above average at execution. Well if this is true (statistically impossible) why does HBR think that execution is the biggest problem in business today?
I finally figured it out and of course it has to do with the way people are managed. If a company has a results-based management focus and good metrics then people can know with precision whether or not they are executing well.
However this isn’t the case with most companies. Most of them are activity-focussed, manage activities and use metics that track activities. If they don’t have a measured, causal relationship between activities and results then they’ll never know whether they are any good at execution.
And because there is no one explicitly in charge of execution (we all are) and thus no one measuring it, no one really ever has a way of finding out whether or not they are any good at executing.
Which brings up the dreaded annual appraisal. Is there anyone out there whose appraisal is any good at dealing in an objective manner with execution?
So there we have it: No one in charge, poor metrics, activity orientation instead of results, poor appraisals means no one really knows if they are any good at execution. (But I’m sure you’re all great drivers – except Tom of course.)
I’m back to talking about science and physics as a way to understand fixing business entropy. (See definition if you missed that blog. This may be boring or confusing but if you read it, I promise it will be good for you.)
If you look at entropy in physical or scientific terms it is pretty easy to see how to fix it. Don’t forget that entropy results in a closed system through the equalization of energy among all elements of that system.
So to fix entropy in a physical system you need to add new energy from the outside.
Fixing Business Entropy
Same in business. Fixing business entropy means applying an outside force to find out why chaos is occurring and develop solutions for that chaos.
It can’t be done from the inside due to the nature of entropy. For a person within the business to address chaos, it would mean doing a regular job managing the chaos and adding extra time to deal with the resolution of it.
The extra effort rarely exists and rarely works because all other employees in the business will resist any application of force that would cause them to exert more than the minimal amount of effort required.
That’s where consultants come in. A consultant is an external force that can look objectively at why chaos is occurring, recommend solutions and drive implementation.
Then the consultant can go away and the business is left to slowly devolve into entropy all over again. Entropy is inevitable and that’s why consultants are inevitable. They are the outside force needed for fixing business entropy.
(And I hope that consultants everywhere can use business entropy as a justification for their existence.)
I’ve worked over the years in a variety of environments that were totally chaotic and always wondered why employees didn’t do something about it. Why do people put up with chaos when they could be fixing systems to make them more orderly?
Well thanks to a comment from Oksana Fedan I finally understand what causes the acceptance of chaos and it is Business Entropy. Now I am not much of a physicist and I’ll have to resort to physics to explain this so hold on.
Entropy is a “measure of disorder or randomness in a closed system.” The concept originated in thermodynamics but has been applied to all sorts of fields. In physical terms, energy flows from a hotter region to a colder one until they all become equally distributed and less able to utilize that heat.
Business entropy occurs in bureaucratic organizations when people begin only to see their own jobs and not interactions with others. Employees do only what is expected of them and cease trying to organize the work in a manner that best suits the entire organization.
It takes extra effort to bring order out of chaos and when things get chaotic, organizations just find it easier to adjust to the chaos than to fix it. It takes less energy to do this (and less cost).
Unfortunately, Business Entropy is almost inevitable as an organization grows, becomes more process oriented, jobs become more specialized and bureaucracy emerges.
Bureaucracy begets more bureaucracy and as employees become more process oriented they tend to defend their processes against intrusion from outsiders and change that would benefit the organization as a whole.
It takes a shift in business thinking from a process orientation to an orientation around results to counter Business Entropy and for most companies, that’s just too much of a switch.
I was working away on a new business plan with Paul Engels of Veloxsites fame when out of the blue he said something like: “Stop the presses, we have to do this differently.” Being an inquisitive type and not understanding what on earth he was talking about, I asked him what’s up.
Well Paul had gotten fed up (and rightly so) with the quantity of words in the document. Being someone who as you might imagine, has a love affair with words, I was very disappointed as I actually wanted to add more words.
The way I figure it, no one reads business plans anyway so adding more words just makes the plan seem all the more righteous. But no, this wasn’t what Paul was talking about.
What he wanted was to add more pictures. Yes, replace words with cute little pictures and diagrams that make it so that people who don’t like to read things can get some value out of a document.
That’s when he said something that rocked my world. He gave me a new way to think about communication. What he said was:
Having a picture gives the reader permission to skip reading in detail.
And this is true. When there are pictures in a document, most readers gravitate directly to the pictures and skip the rest. Genius. What it means for you, is that if you want to communicate better, draw some pictures.
So if procrastination isn’t a bad thing and instead is just a value judgement made by anally-retentive over-achievers (see yesterday’s blog) then it is something to be celebrated.
Before we actually get around to creating National Procrastinator’s Day, maybe we should focus on how to become better procrastinators. Here then are five easy steps to save time and effort by becoming a better procrastinator:
- When someone else gives you a task to do along with a deadline, ask them if they really really need it by the deadline date or whether it is an artificial date. Try to get that deadline extended.
- After a few days have gone by, ask a bunch of really tough questions that will make the other person think hard and take a while to answer. This makes the other person think that you’re really getting at it and at the same time it can cut down what you need to do or potentially delay completion even more.
- Let the task roll around in your head for a while, all the time thinking about what is the least amount of work you can do to get the task done. Ask more questions to seem busy and try to reduce the task or eliminate it.
- Once you have figured out the absolute minimum amount of work needed (see blog on Perfectionism) then figure out the absolutely latest time possible that you can start the task.
- Once that time has past, get down to and rescue victory from the jaws of defeat by doing even less work than you thought you needed to do and pulling off a miracle to complete the task on time.
Now you may think I’m joking about this but I’m being perfectly serious. A lot of us spend too much time doing things that don’t need to be done or spending too much time on things of little value.
The great thing about procrastination is that it can be used as a tool to avoid doing the unnecessary and reducing time on the unimportant.
You would think from the comments to my last blog that people feel very guilty when they procrastinate. I find that really funny as I never feel guilty when I procrastinate.
Apparently, there are three types of procrastinators, Delayers put things off for all sorts of reasons, Perfectionists don’t let go of something until it is perfect and Distractibles are people who are easily distracted by bright shiny objects.
No matter what type of procrastinator you happen to be, most people seem to feel some form of guilt, anxiety, dissatisfaction, depression or self-loathing when they procrastinate.
Silly, silly, silly. This must be something like left-over guilt from toilet training when one is young. After all, if you aren’t late at delivering something you promised,who cares if you did it at the last minute or weeks ago? Why do we think it is better to do things early that to do it late. After all, what does it really matter when you do it, as long as it is of acceptable quality and on time?
In fact the way I think about it, there are a bunch of benefits to procrastinating when trying to do something:
- Whatever you have to do might get cancelled before you get to it.
- You get to do things you like more first.
- You get more time to figure out what to do. (If I had more time I would have written a shorter letter.)
- You can get it all done at once.
So it’s time to take off the shackles of unwarranted value judgements designed in the Victorian age to benefit the early bird who gets lots of worms. Stop feeling guilty about doing things at the last minute. Who really cares when you do something?
Procrastination is much better that not getting stuff done. These are the people who really should feel guilty, the ones who don’t produce. And the funny thing is that the non-producers don’t feel guilty about their lack of production. So why should you feel guilty about procrastinating?
I have a friend who considers herself to be a terrible procrastinator and yet she is one of the most productive people I know. If you look up stuff on procrastination online, you’ll get all sorts of information on how bad it is to procrastinate and how you can overcome this horrid tendency in 5 easy steps.
So if procrastination is so bad, how is it that my friend can be so productive? Maybe we have it all wrong, maybe procrastination is actually a good thing.
First lets look at what procrastination is. Various sites define procrastination as “the practice of carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, or doing more pleasurable things in place of more pleasurable ones.” It is also defined as “the act or habit of procrastinating, or putting off or delaying especially something requiring immediate attention.” “To postpone or delay needlessly.”
Now this friend of mine fits the bill to a T. If she has something that just has to be done for work and she doesn’t want to do it, she’ll do anything else instead. When she should be working the weekend on a report, she’ll spend the time tidying her place, cleaning, doing errands, laundry, almost anything other than doing the report.
If you notice the definitions of procrastination and the description of my friend’s activities, you’ll notice something interesting. Procrastinators are not people who do nothing, they just happen to do things in an order that would seem to be counter-productive, less important before more important.
And when I look at it that way, procrastination doesn’t seem all that bad. You’re still getting stuff done, just perhaps not in the order that would seem to make sense.
If you’re an entrepreneur, you’re told that you must be persistent, that persistence will make you successful and I suppose that the same thing is told to many people in developing their careers. But what do you be persistent about?
Many people seem to think that being persistent means doing the same thing over and over again until somebody pays attention to what you’re doing. That, unfortunately, as I have seen recently, is just wrong headed. (Or in my case, pig headed.)
If battering your head against a closed door is being persistent and that won’t work then what things are you supposed to be persistent about? I’ve been trying to come up with a list of four things that entrepreneurs need to be persistent about and here they are:
- Innovating – As an entrepreneur or even as an employee you must be constantly innovating. Being persistent at changing what you’re doing may eventually make you successful.
- Networking – Yes, I know I have mentioned that I hate networking but if you want to find your tribe (thanks Seth Godin) you must be persistent about networking.
- Listening – Networking isn’t about telling your idea, it’s about listening to their problems. Persistent listening will uncover more that you ever find by telling.
- Learning – Finally, if you’re networking and listening then you might learn. It is the persistent learner that then becomes the best innovator and you end up back at the beginning of this list. (Lather, rinse, repeat.)
So if you are not analytical, how do you make decisions? Are you in fact even conscious of the way you make decisions? I thought not.
I guess we all do it but essentially, if you make decisions using only one way, it means that you’re ignoring different ways you can make decisions. If you’re being analytical, then perhaps you’re ignoring what your emotions say.
Or if you’re making decisions emotionally, then perhaps you’re ignoring any analysis which might be available.
All of the stuff on emotional intelligence would say that you should be conscious of your emotions when making decisions but there is a catch here. To be conscious of your emotions, you must become analytical. And if you’re analytical, it is likely that you do not pay enough attention to your emotions.
And this is where everything breaks down. Most people just are not analytical so by virtue of this, they can’t become emotionally intelligent. Interesting conundrum isn’t it?
To become more emotionally intelligent you must be more analytical. Seems counterintuitive but it really rests at the crux of a lot of problems.
I just read a report that says that analytics is the next big thing in digital marketing. I’ve been listening to James Standen of nModal say this same thing for several years and I’m beginning to see that this might be true, to a point.
Overall I don’t think many people are really into analytics. I was talking to several people at a client’s yesterday about some potential analytics for their business and got a lukewarm response.
I went home reminded that while I am REALLY into analytics, not everyone else is. (Yes, I know, there are some of you who are making snide comments because I am an analytics nerd.)
It made me think back to all of the fascinating (well they were to me) analytics based reports I have done in the past. To me they were incredibly mind blowing, strategy altering, and revealing pieces of data with great import. To many who read them though they were a big whoop, not that the information wasn’t new but they just didn’t seem to care.
I have even gone so far on two occasions to start businesses based on new data or on different ways of looking at data and got very spotty market response.
So why is it that people just are not into analytics for the most part. And if they don’t like analysis, how do they get the right information to make decisions?
(And by the way, for those of you who thought you knew where the word analytics comes from you are probably wrong. It is from the Greek “analuein” which is the concatenation of “ana” meaning up and “lysis ” meaning a loosening, ergo: loosening up.)