Last week I started this conversation about insights spurred by my recent reading of The 4-hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. I shared his ideas about how we allow the wrong tasks to consume our valuable time [read part 1 of this series]. Equally compelling, and our topic for today is how Ferriss makes a case for busting through the confines of the traditional hierarchical organization.
To give context for this discussion, please allow me to share a brief history lesson. As the industrial revolution moved workers from agrarian work to factories, business owners applied military leadership models known as hierarchies to their structure. The hierarchical structure concentrates power and decision authority with leaders at the top. They are in place to direct the action of the rank and file beneath them, whose role is to execute unerringly and without question. Although the value of this modus operandi may prove itself on the battlefield, in the 20th Century, many companies found this model detrimental to achieving their aspirations.
In Chapter 11, "Management by Absence," Ferriss offers the alternative - creating a process-driven instead of leader-driven business by removing oneself from the center of all decision making. He provides specific examples of using rules, guidelines, and processes in his own company, which allowed his employees and business partners to serve his customers without the use of an exception and escalation process that required his attention.
Ferriss is not alone in the idea of dismantling traditional hierarchical structures to generate a highly functioning organization. This Forbes series explores several alternative organizational designs to increase productivity and performance. Embracing the tenet that those performing work know the most about it and are best able to make informed decisions, requires that we confront our unchecked belief in the importance of leaders as the authoritarian control.
During my time as a human resources generalist, I participated in many conversations regarding the appointment of titles to newly created leadership positions. In traditional hierarchies, a title holds importance because it carries with it position power. It connotes success through place above others in the hierarchy. A title also determines inclusion in meetings, conversations, decisions, and privileges. Unconsciously, we reinforce an unexamined belief that those who are smartest and know the most ascend the hierarchy. The result is organizational designs that place leadership positions in the center of information flow and decision making. Unfortunately, this is often an inefficient and costly design flaw.
Ferriss shares the example of Applegate Farms founder Stephen McDonnell as the alternative. In an Inc.com feature article, McDonnell describes how he sees his role as this.
For the past 25 years, I have physically gone to the office only about once a week. Through certain periods, it's been twice a week, but rarely more. I work largely out of my office at home. I think you can observe what's happening so much easier from the outside than when you're inside of it. Your whole outlook changes. You actually become kind of a therapist to your organization. When you're inside it, you're the patient.
If you are one of the many business owners and executives who regularly find yourself overworked and exhausted, it is likely the result of unconsciously adopting the roles and processes of a hierarchical design. By choosing to hold onto power and authority, you are also choosing stress, de-energizing conversations, and unproductive tasks.
Perhaps more importantly, you are robbing yourself of the full value of the resources available to you in the people whom you have chosen to be part of your organization. In choosing to empower those same people with authority and decision making, you not only free yourself, you also ignite passion and commitment that flows through your team to your customers.
Almost every morning, you will find me at my local dog park, where I walk an hour or more while listening to audiobooks. My book choices are various, including a regular rotation of business books and other nonfiction titles. Recently, I selected a title from earlier this Century, The 4-hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss. This book has sparked much thinking about my own business and the clients that I support. Interestingly, much of what struck me aligns with my recent writing about the importance of valuing yourself and as an extension, where you spend your time. This blog is one of two I have planned so that I can share some of the insights that I gleaned from this book.
Insights from Chapter 5 of The 4-hour Workweek
As I have shared before, re-engineering was the practice du jour of my early career in manufacturing. Pareto's Law, also known as the 80/20 principle, was the call to arms in this work. The mathematical underpinnings of Pareto's work demonstrated a predictable distribution in which a mere 20% of the inputs create 80% of the results. He applied his mathematical equation to a variety of systems (economics, agriculture, etc.), and the results were consistent for all. Of course, the key to this equation is the ability to discern and differentiate the contributions to identify the prolific 20%. The search for this holy grail kept I/O practitioners like me, and many large consulting firms (Bain, McKinsey, Accenture, etc.) steadily employed throughout the early '90s.
Mr. Ferriss' writing reminded me that this exercise in seeking the most effective activities is equally valuable to individuals who wish to be more productive. Here are two of his points that I love.
"Doing something unimportant well does not make it important."
My husband once described the difference between being a salaried and an hourly employee as the requirement of salaried employees to figure out what work they needed to do to fill the workday. He has always subscribed to the notion that much of what people spend time doing at work is unnecessary, time-filler activities.
The appearance of being busy all the time is an unstated cultural norm that people adopted without complaint until the Millennials hit the scene. Millennials are stereotyped as the generation that fully inhabits the ideas above from Ferriss. They are not interested in busy work and see no issue with leaving the office after completing their critical tasks (which often require less than an 8-hour day).
Do your days pass in a blur of activity that leaves your exhausted and wondering what you've accomplished? If you cut your professional teeth in a corporation, it is highly likely that you have unconsciously adopted time-filler practices and propagated them in your own business. Challenging yourself to identify Pareto's Law in your work is a step in the right direction for business owners who want to focus their time more effectively and experience relief from the constant pressures of a lengthy to-do list.
CHALLENGE 1: Break free of the busy work trap
This chapter by Ferriss offered one more golden nugget. He compounds the idea of transforming your workday with the application of Parkinson's Law, which he describes as follows.
"a task will swell in (perceived) importance and complexity in relation to the time allotted for its completion."
In other words, setting short, aggressive timelines for completing work creates focus and prevents analysis paralysis.
It is our nature and habit to allow an abundance of time to become detrimental to productive use of this limited resource. General Electric understood this issue clearly when they institutionalized their Work-Out and subsequent Change Acceleration Process (CAP). These tools for framing and executing change from any level of the organization start with simplicity and speed as core conditions — these processes timebound projects to 90-day completion deadlines. For many of us, our best work happens when we are "under the gun" and required to simplify.
Consider how you relate to this admission from Ferriss.
"Even if you know what's critical, without deadlines that create focus, the minor tasks forced upon you (or invented, in the case of the entrepreneur) will swell to consume time until another bit of minutiae jumps in to replace it, leaving you at the end of the day with nothing accomplished. How else could dropping off a package at UPS, setting a few appointments, and checking e-mail consume an entire 9-5 day? Don't feel bad. I spent months jumping from one interruption to the next, feeling run by my business instead of the other way around."
As a business owner, this strikes home for me, and I see this daily struggle for my clients.
CHALLENGE 2: Simplify and focus
Time is precious because it is finite. Having the time we desire for family, friends, and relaxation is an often named struggle for business owners and leaders. Like Ferriss, I believe that we have the power of choice and can utilize discernment to become wiser stewards of our time. I suspect that all of us can claim the life that we want through the application of Pareto's and Parkinson's Laws.
Next week I'll share another great tip from The 4-hour Workweek to increase your effectiveness and preserve your time as a leader. Until then, I invite you to contemplate the challenge questions above and share your insights with me and my followers.
Last Wednesday in my Fear Is a Liar blog, I invited you to join my Halloween challenge and face down a fear that is holding you back. The very next day, I received the opportunity to put my money where my mouth is.
Fear 1: Doing something publicly that I've never done before
A message from a connection on LinkedIn arrived inviting me to participate in the Women In Insurance and Financial Services national conference as an exhibitor. The conference began on Sunday evening and ended at lunch yesterday.
Having never before participated as an exhibitor, my initial fear response was to say no, and it sounded like this:
Despite all of these valid fears and the natural decline, "Sorry, I don't have enough lead time to clear my schedule to participate," I found the courage to accept.
Because I value making authentic connections, I started by asking my conference contact to tell me about the attendees, their expectations, what they like, etc. Next, I reflected on this empowering possibility question, "What do I need to do to make this happen?"
My initial list was something like this
Fear 2: Networking at an event where I am an outsider
The conference kicked-off with a social reception on Sunday evening. Not attending was easy for me to justify given all my preparation tasks, and yet I knew that I was cheating myself of the opportunity to make more connections by skipping it. I walked into a room full of people already gathered in conversation groups. I joined the line at the bar and chatted cocktail choices with the woman next to me while we waited. Drink in hand, it was now time to swallow my fear and approach one of these groups. Luckily my first request to join a group was eagerly accepted. What's more, the few women that I met in those initial 2-hours became my quick girlfriend connections that made me feel at home throughout the event.
Fear 3: Everyone will know me for the impostor that I am
I'll be honest; my initial inclination was to pretend that I was a trade-show veteran. Instead, I decided to be vulnerable and own my newness. That was the right call. From the first to last conversation, this fantastic group of women made me feel welcomed and appreciated. They chose to engage with genuine interest in learning about me and my coaching business. They made those two days of the conference fun and fulfilling. I even received a compliment from my neighbor exhibitor about my ability to connect and tell my story.
I'm not going to lie. I was exhausted by this journey, and yet I have been rewarded and affirmed in numerous ways because I said YES. Fear is a LIAR! What victories are you scoring against him? Be sure to comment and let me know.
Be Bold. Be Brave. Be YOU!
My girls love everything Halloween, especially the scary movies and haunted experiences filled with jump scares. This playful relationship with fear is fun and adventurous. My daughter and her friends are engaged in a game of bravery. They challenge one another to face scary, dark places. They bond together and fuel one another's courage to walk forward through the unknown.
The reality is that in our day-to-day lives, we could achieve more of what we want if we had a better relationship with fear. All too often, fear is an ongoing presence that dictates our life choices. It arrives uninvited when we are in uncomfortable and unknown situations, and our default response is to choose safety in the forms of silence or avoidance.
Consider these familiar examples.
Fear underlies these responses, and it sounds like this:
Author, speaker, and activist, Peter Block says that when we choose safety, we give up power and possibilities. [pause and read that again!] Furthermore, the only way to get better is to practice. Ask my daughter, and she will tell you that the more scary places she goes, the less scary they become. The first couple are always the most heart-pounding and require the most effort in terms of summoning her courage, even if she has been to them in prior years.
With courage and practice in mind, let's explore some alternative responses to the above situations.
Situation 1: Mary, I just want to confirm that I value the work that you do. I give myself tight deadlines in order to meet my customer's needs as quickly as possible. When I am interrupted, it throws me off my game, and the work can take me twice as long as normal. I support some freedom and flexibility for your work schedule, and yet there are limits to what works for me and my business. This is the third consecutive day that you arrived late without any advanced communication and agreement with me. Your presence is essential to my ability to maintain a highly productive work space free from interruptions. Going forward, can we have a conversation before you make changes to your schedule?
What would be possible if I didn't let fear stop me from advocating for myself?
What words of fear play in your head and keep you trapped in silence and avoidance?
Envision yourself facing down your fear and claiming what you want.
If you are like my daughter, and you prefer to have someone by your side to help you summon your courage and take the first step, give me a call. I'd love to help you let go of fear and Ignite Your Extraordinary!