We are all busy. And truth be told, I think we are conditioned to believe that being busy is a good thing. It’s a sign of our worth, our value, right? It’s an indication of our contribution to the cause, whatever the cause. If I am busy, that means I am needed. The amount of work we do is a measure of importance. Whether your role is technical, clinical, administrative, managerial, or leading, we all are susceptible to this line of thinking.
But I think we know, deep in our hearts, that being busy really isn’t a measure of our worth, our importance, or our value. It doesn’t even indicate that we are accomplishing anything. That is a difficult idea to embrace. It is easier to stay busy than it is to change the way we work.
There is a seemingly inevitable battle in business that pits the goals of management against the goals of labor. But if we look past preconceptions, fears, and deeply held assumptions, we will see that the goals of management and labor are very closely aligned. In its simplest form, management wants the company to succeed, and labor wants to get paid for work. If the company doesn’t succeed, it can’t pay for labor. So, see how the goals are aligned?
If it were only so simple.
“That which we believe is true, in its consequences.”1
Consider how that sentence could force you to think about what you believe, and hopefully, why you believe it. Sometimes we believe things because we think it is what we are supposed to believe, and we don’t challenge it or seek to find out if it’s the truth. Again, this can be hard and cause our foundations to shake. This is really scary stuff.
So the first time management comes in and says that being busy is not enough anymore, it’s more than a simple statement; it is a command to search your soul and challenge your truth. It means the measuring stick with which we measure ourselves is less relevant. It is a personal attack on long-held beliefs. To effect this change, the entire organization needs to buy in. If we start with a sledgehammer to a person’s self-worth, the odds of a successful partnership between management and labor are probably severely diminished.
Before we can improve our businesses, the perception of value needs to change. I am not naive enough to believe this is all about a paycheck, but if I have a defined task that I am going to hire a contractor to do, that job can take a day or three days, depending on how I value the labor. If I place a value on the time it takes my contractor, I can be reasonably sure that the job is going to take as long as possible. But if I tell the contractor what I want with clear expectations and I pay them to deliver the finished product, they will complete it as quickly as they can.
So, in your company, how does management value its staff? Does it reward “busyness” or productivity?
Don’t tell me what you think, tell me what the evidence shows. Where does management place value? If you want to make your practice successful, you must value behavior that drives success. And what, pray tell, is that behavior, you ask? There is no easy answer, but more than likely, its starts with the owner and works its way down. It is a journey that starts with a realization that change is not necessarily a bad thing. That challenging assumptions, no matter how deeply held, can be healthy. And that sometimes, we are so busy because we are propping up an unsustainable foundation. Our best use of resources may be a new way.
For more on this topic, read Williamson’s April 1 blog, “Power in the Workplace.”
1. I was pretty sure I made that up. I remember providing my dad with those words of wisdom as a teenager. I am sure he took it well. While writing this, however, I learned that the foundation of the quote is in the Thomas Theorem.