Everything will be the same but different

As I was driving to the shops, I wound down the window, and then thought what an antiquated phrase that now is. We don’t wind down the window anymore, we press a button, and a motor lowers it for us. Likewise, we don’t hang up the phone anymore, we press a button and the call ends. If I asked my son to rewind the song we just listened to, while he might know what I meant, he would have no real frame of reference for rewinding the magnetic tape in a 1980’s era cassette. These phrases are redundant now, but they still hold meaning for our generation. 

As technology evolved, everything changed. But it kind of stayed the same as well. We still have windows in our cars and we still need to open and close them. The motor just does it more efficiently than the winding handle we used to use. We still talk to people on a phone, we just don’t need to hang the receiver on a hook to end the call, or indeed be tied to a cable connected to the wall. We still replay songs and podcasts, but the ‘rewind’ is digital rather than physical. 

We are hearing a lot about the next big revolution – that of AI, and how it is going to change how we work forever. I have no doubt it will, and I am excited about the efficiencies it will bring, and the increase to the quality of our work. But I reckon, whilst everything will change, everything will still be kind of the same when it comes to getting our work organised, prioritised and executed.  

A recent article I read in the Harvard Business Review cited a research study undertaken by Boston Consulting Group which found that users of ChatGPT completed tasks 25.1% faster with 40% higher quality than those that did not in the study. This increase in performance was most notable for certain types of activities, but in some cases ChatGPT made things worse. 

This indicates to me that we are not going to lose our jobs just yet to AI. It will enhance our ability to get things done, and the quality of our output, but we will still need to organise and do the work. Just like while the motor in my car door makes my life easier, I still need to decide to open the window, and press a button to do it. 

I am watching the AI space carefully, and thinking about the implications for how we organise, prioritise and execute our work in the future. Right now though, I have shopping to unpack. Now, where is my robo-servant when I need it? 

Treat meetings like Wagyu steak

Prefer to listen?

As I mentioned in my last blog post, I am a bit of a foodie. Over the last couple of years, I made the decision that if I am going to cook a steak, I am going to cook the best, which in my opinion, is usually a Wagyu steak. Now, I know Wagyu is not cheap, but I have found a reasonably priced provider, and I have made the compromise of cooking a smaller piece than I might have in the past. And I will only have steak once every couple of weeks, so it is always a real treat.

For me, the intensity of a small but perfectly cooked piece of Wagyu is much better than a big hunk of ordinary meat (sorry to all the non-meat eaters reading this – meat analogy about to end).

I reckon meetings should be treated like Wagyu. They are an expensive, almost luxurious way to get work done, and we sometimes cram too many of them into our schedule, often without clear purpose or intentionality. What if we applied the same concept to meetings that I apply to my steak? That is, have smaller meetings, less often, but make sure that when we have meetings, they are the best quality. How good would that be?

Next time you start to organise a meeting, or accept a meeting invite, stop for a moment and consider if there might be a better way of achieving the desired outcome. Could an informal discussion between two or three people get to the heart of the issue more efficiently? Should this be an email, or an MS Teams post, rather than a meeting? If you decide that a meeting is the best tool for the job, what can you do to ensure that it is a focused and purposeful engagement that is productive for all attendees?

They say that too much meat is not only bad for our wellbeing, but also bad for the environment. Too much time in meetings is bad for your personal productivity, as well as for your team’s productivity culture. Let’s get smarter in how we use meetings as a tool to get work done. If we reduce the quantity of meetings whilst at the same time increase the quality, we will all benefit.

The philosophy of Gordon Ramsay

As you will already know, I am a bit of a productivity nut. And you may know that I am also a bit of a food nut. I am currently reading Gordons Ramsay’s new book, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay: A Story of Excellence. It is half autobiography, and half cookbook. And it is a great read if you are a foodie. 

Even though he runs an empire of restaurants around the world, his first restaurant is still his most cherished, you can tell. He opened Restaurant Gordon Ramsay twenty-five years ago and has held three Michelin stars for twenty-two of those years. This book is very much a homage to this restaurant and his philosophy which drives the consistently high standards they have achieved there. 

His food philosophy is very clear and comes out on every page of the book. Lightness is one of the cornerstones of his philosophy. When he started the restaurant, he was adamant that he would move away from the rich and heavy French-based cooking that he was trained in, and which dominated the restaurant scene in the UK at that time. All his dishes, and those of his chefs, strive for lightness. Restraint is another word that comes up a lot as he talks about his philosophy. As does seasonality, as he passionately believes in using what is in season and changes the menu with the seasons. Throw in produce and excellence, and that pretty much sums up his philosophy in five words.  

Being really clear about these things is incredibly useful in helping a large team operate at a consistently high level for many years. You can imagine that these ideas inform every recipe they design and cook, how they are presented, and even the clientele they are hoping to attract. New staff would have a clear handle on what the restaurant is trying to achieve and how it works. Gordon Ramsay, by clearly thinking about and communicating his food philosophy to those around him, allows his vision to be executed at the highest level, even when he is not there. What he calls the DNA of the restaurant guides every action by every member of staff.  

I believe the same is true when it comes to the productivity of your team. If a leader has a clear productivity philosophy, they communicate this clearly, and hold themselves and the team accountable to this philosophy, it moulds the DNA of the team. Or in other words, the culture of the team is informed by the leader’s philosophy. There is a direct link. The team’s productivity philosophy informs the intentions of the team. Their intentions then drive behaviours, and in turn, the groups behaviours shift the culture.  

All teams have three distinct productivity cultures. These cultures can sometimes be unhealthy and detrimental to the productivity of the team. They may have an email culture that can be noisy and overwhelming. They may have a meeting culture that can mean too much time spent in unproductive meetings. And they may have an urgency culture that can lead to everyone being too reactive and busy.  

To create more productive cultures for your team, you need to start with a clear philosophy about productivity, and how you want your team to work and collaborate. Being purposeful, mindful, reliable and punctual would be a good starting point. These intentions would drive actual behaviours, which in turn would shift the culture. Of course, this requires work and effort, but if you want your team to operate at the highest level, you cannot shy away from this work. Ask Gordon Ramsay! 

If you feel that your team needs to do some work on their email culture, meeting culture or urgency culture, we should have a chat about our Smart Teams Masterclasses. Running one of these masterclasses at your next team offsite could be the perfect way for you to make 2024 a most productive year for your team. Send me an email at dermot.crowley@adaptproductivity.com.au and let’s have a chat about your productivity philosophy.  

Productivity is very much a leadership issue

I bumped into a client in a deli the other day, and she told me that she had been talking to her team recently, who had all participated in my training. They remarked on how I seemed to have disappeared a bit. John Lennon once wrote that ‘Life is what happens when you are busy making plans’. So true. Some unexpected events on the personal front have consumed my focus over the last couple of months, but as I come up for air again, I am excited to get back to some of those plans that I was working on.

One of these plans is the launch of my new book, Lead Smart. This bookends the ‘Smart’ trilogy, and will provide a highly practical guide for leaders at all levels to lead productivity in their teams. The idea that productivity is a leadership issue is a really important concept for me. I think about leadership as a rope, with multiple strands making up that rope. Productivity is one of those strands, and I would even say that productivity is one of the core strands in the rope. What better use of a leader’s time than increasing the capability and capacity of their team?

But I worry sometimes that as leaders, we are sometimes too busy to lead, and to work proactively on the development of our people. When we find ourselves drowning in a deluge of emails, running from meeting to meeting all week long, and constantly having to divert of focus to the latest urgent issue, it can be hard to do the things that have the moist impact in our role.

That is why we must put our own personal productivity, and the productivity of our team, front and centre. This goes beyond just organising training at your next team offsite. How we organise ourselves, and how we work together needs to become an ongoing conversation, and as a leader, we are the ones that need to drive that conversation.

Some useful questions to ask yourself to gauge the health of your approach to leading productivity are:

  • Is my personal productivity approach as good as it needs to be to serve my objectives and my team?
  • Is my team’s approach to productivity as up to date and consistent as it could be?
  • Do we work in healthy productivity cultures (Communication, Meetings, Collaboration and Urgency) that allow productivity to flow?
  • Do I truly lead productivity within my team, or do I adopt a ‘she’ll be right’ attitude to productivity?

Over the next couple of months, I will be unbundling some of the key ideas from Lead Smart. But if you really want to get your head around leading productivity, grab a copy from your favourite bookstore or online retailer. Pre-orders are open now on Amazon and Booktopia, and the book will be officially realeased on 27th September.

Our role in making flexible working work

I read an interesting article in the Sydney Morning Herald the other day about some companies that had trialled a 4-day working week for employees with great success. In fact, after the trial finished, only one company out of twenty-six did not continue with the model.

This got me thinking about what we need to do if we want flexible working to become a sustainable and effective way of operating as we move forward. It is not just up to management to create a model that works, and a culture that supports the model. We all have a role to play in making flexible working a success for the company and for the staff.

I am a big fan of flexible working, be it working from home or another location, or working a 4-day week as discussed in the article. I also know not everyone would agree with my position, but over the last couple of years, as I have talked to clients about their preferences, I have a strong impression that most people actually do like the flexibility, and if used well, find themselves more productive and more balanced.

In the lead up to my new book Lead Smart being published, my publisher Wiley asked me to update Smart Work with some new content on hybrid working, which will be republished in June. One of my realisations about hybrid working and flexible working is that the best way for the workers involved to prove that it works is to demonstrate clearly that they can be as productive, if not more productive, working this way. This cannot fall on the shoulders of the individual though, it requires a team effort, and strong leadership.

I worked with a team recently who were moving to a 9-day fortnight as a trial for the wider organisation. Same pay, same expected output, but shorter hours worked. They were excited about this, but felt like they were stepping onto untested ground. It was a big shift for them, but their leader was very passionate about the wellbeing benefits for the team. He took a strong leadership role in the project, and brought me in to give his team the best chance of success by giving them the skills to work smarter and harness the power of their productivity technology to be productive wherever they worked. In fact, he strongly believed that each of his team could save one hour per day by implementing the Smart Work strategies, which exactly added up to one day every two weeks of saved time. Same pay, same output, less time.

I totally believe in this. If you have a good organising system in place, and you harness the power of the technology at your fingertips like MS Outlook and OneNote, you can get more done in less time, and be productive whether in the office, at home or in a café. But you need to step up to this new way of working, and skill up to meet the needs of a more flexible way of working.

Are you and your team equipped to be your most productive in a flexible workplace?

Have I done enough?

Have I done enough?

As the year draws to a close, I have been reflecting on what I have done, what I have progressed and what I have achieved this year. One of the questions in my mind has been ‘Have I done enough?’ Have I leveraged my time, energy and attention to the max and to the benefit of my practice, my team and my life?

To answer this, I ask myself two other questions:

Could I have done more? I am sure I could have.

Should I have done more? Probably not.  

I have had a busy year, but not too busy. Many of you will know I have a three-month sojourn in Italy, which was a once in a lifetime opportunity. I have put less focus on managing my time this year and more focus on managing my energy. This has meant that I have had a less compressed schedule, but I have turned up to the commitments I had scheduled (work and personal) more fully and more engaged.

I could have done more, worked longer, ticked more things off the list, sent more emails and had more dinners with friends. But I feel I got the balance pretty right, and the amount of activity I have done has been enough to achieve outstanding results in the business, keep my team engaged and happy, and make my family and friends feel that I have been present and engaged. This makes me feel happy, and able to enjoy the break over the next few weeks.

So, as you start winding down for 2022, take a moment to reflect on what you have done, progressed and achieved. Ask yourself if you have done enough, no more, no less. If so, enjoy the break and try to bring the same intent into 2023.

By the way, some exciting things are happening next year. Smart Work will be republished mid-year with a hybrid working slant, which I think will be very topical. I am currently writing book three of the Smart Series, called Lead Smart, which talks to how leaders can lead the smart working principles in their teams and their organisations. I am very excited about this, so look out for that later in the year. I look forward to sharing some of these ideas with you in the coming months. Have an amazing break and see you all on the other side.

Increase the heat of your intentions

Increase the heat of your intentions

A friend of mine gave me a lovely compliment yesterday. We were having a conversation about a business strategy I was implementing, and he told me that he loved my intentionality. I asked him what made him say that, and he said “I just love the way you always have a clear purpose, and when you declare your intentions, you always follow through”.

I thought about this, and I must say, I will take that as a fair and honest assessment of my character (along with many flaws, such as an inflated ego and being rather fond of talking about myself!). I am quite intentional. I am the type of person that if I tell you at dinner on Saturday night that I will send you a link to that article, on Monday morning you are highly likely to receive the link. If my partner Vera asks me to call the plumber, the plumber will be called in a timely way. If I say I will get it to you by Thursday, I will, or I will put my hand up and renegotiate.

For me, intentionality is a part of my brand. People judge me on my actions, and it is so important to me that I follow through on promises, both to others to myself.

How good are you at being intentional?

Do you make purposeful commitments, and then ensure you follow through on them?

Do others see intentionality as a part of your brand?

To help you to be more intentional, I have created a rating scale that you might find useful when reviewing your intentionality. I have based it on the heat scale used by my local Thai take away, with chillies describing the heat level of your intentions. Think about which level you tend to operate at most of the time. Of course, the scale below can be situational, but I reckon we all can identify a level that we tend towards most of the time.

Being intentional has two components:

  1. An internal value that you live and work by to do what you say you are going to do; and
  2. An external system or set of strategies that you use to ensure the action does not get forgotten or lost in the busyness and noise of our hectic lives.

Being intentional is not that hard. But it creates a good impression on others, and it feels good to follow through on your promises, even if you don’t like chillies!


Hold the line

There is a great scene in the movie Braveheart, where William Wallace, aka Mel Gibson, steadies his men on the battlefield, as the better equipped and larger English force bears down on them. As his rag-tag Scottish army stand in a long line waiting for the enemy, he calls ‘Hold, hold, hold the line’. His men are nervous, but they do hold, inspired by his bravery and leadership. As the English are almost on top of them, led by their towering and intimidating knights on horseback, Braveheart yells ‘Now’, and his front line of soldiers bend down, pick up long spears carved out of tree branches, and hold them up at an angle, impaling the oncoming knights and horses. Gruesome but effective.

As I watched this, I was struck by how workers and leaders are often faced with a relentless onslaught of busyness, urgency and distraction. To me these are like three apocalyptic riders who search out and destroy our productivity (OK, so I am now mixing my movies, as this is veering into Lord of the Rings territory but stay with me).

As these riders and their armies bear down on us, we need to find the conviction and courage to hold the line, and not buckle and give in to the pressure. We need to hold the line and stay with what we believe to be the more important use of our time, rather than getting diverted from our priorities. Easier said than done, but with strong and inspiring leaders who lead by example, and coach their teams to fight for their priorities, it is possible.

Busyness is infectious, and once it takes hold, we can end up extremely busy without having the impact we should be having. Urgency is pervasive, and for many has become the default way they prioritise work. When they say, ‘This is important’ what they actually mean is ‘This is urgent’. And with that mindset, the risk is that everything becomes urgent.

Distraction is also everywhere in our workplace now, be that at the office or at home. We are distracted in online meetings, doing emails while we half listen to what is being said. We are distracted by email itself. We are distracted by social media. Even precious time spent with family is so often distracted time spent on our phone.

Braveheart made a stand against the tyranny of the English and said enough is enough! Have you got the conviction in your priorities to make a stand against busyness, urgency and distraction? Have you got the courage to negotiate with those around you to protect your focus?

Sometimes we need to hold steady in the face of pressure. And of course, sometimes we need to give in and choose which battles to fight and which to leave. But if you are intentional in this, you will spend more of your time, energy and attention on the things that matter in your role.

They may take our lives, but they’ll never take our Freedom! OK, back to work now.

NOvember is here

A good friend of mine, Meredith Wilson, works with leadership teams to help them build and lead better cultures. I recently saw her post about what she calls NOvember, and I thought it was a brilliant idea. I asked her if I could share this idea to my readers and clients.

She has made it a personal quest to practice saying No to more things that suck her time, energy and attention during the month of NOvember. I reckon we could all benefit from practicing this for the month ahead.

  • Say No to some of those meetings that you really don’t need to be in
  • Say No to urgent work requests that are really not that important (or urgent)
  • Say No to email alerts and distractions
  • Say No to getting the laptop out every night after dinner
  • Say No to meeting requests that do not communicate a meeting purpose
  • Say No to meetings before 9.00am or after 5:00pm
  • Say No to the part of your brain that drifts to social media on your phone

Your time, energy and attention are precious resources. Every time you spend them on something that is of lower value, the opportunity cost is you are not able to spend them on things that are of higher value. So, take a leaf out of Meredith’s book, and practice the art of saying No during NOvember. You may be surprised by the results.

Reduce unnecessary CCs by empowering your team

Prefer to listen? Listen to Dermot’s audio recording below:

I am noticing a recurring behaviour with many people who email me. I’m not sure if I’m noticing it because it is happening more frequently, or if it’s just grabbed my attention for some other reason, but it’s a behaviour worth talking about, as I believe it should be avoided if possible.

The behaviour is for team members to copy their manager on emails that they send to me (or others of course). I might receive an email from a someone in a client organisation requesting some available dates for training with their team. Their manager has asked them to organise the training, and they have copied the manager in on the communication. I receive these on a regular basis, but in this case feel that copying the manager is overkill.

This got me thinking about the drivers behind this behaviour, as I know that the overuse of Cc can have an impact on productivity. A lot of my time is spent helping managers and leaders get on top of the deluge of emails they receive every day, many of them Cc’s. I am very aware that it is not always the sender that is driving this, but sometimes the manager themselves.

When we copy people in on an email, we are trying to make the work more visible. Sometimes, this is good and necessary. But other times it just creates unnecessary noise that overwhelms the person copied. There are two scenarios where this might occur:

  1. Where the manager wants to be copied in on these emails
    This could be a once-off request relating to a particular piece of work, or sometimes the manager wants to be looped in on everything. If it is the latter, or if the use of Cc is overkill in the circumstance, then there may be a lack of trust between the manager and the team member. The manager may tend to micro-manage and is creating a rod for their own back by asking to be copied in on everything.
  1. Where the sender feels the need to copy their manager in on emails
    Again, this could be on the occasional email where warranted, or it could be on many emails per day. If it is the latter, there may be a lack of confidence in the team member, and they worry that their manager will not see and approve of all the work that they are doing. This could be a case of over-collaboration, and if several team members are doing the same thing, can greatly increase the volume of noise that the manager receives in their Inbox.

If trust is low on the managers part, or confidence is low on the team members part, then something needs to shift to increase either or both. I believe the manager or leader needs to empower the team member by coaching good decision making around the use of Cc.

A good framework to empower others in this way is what I call the ‘Handy’ delegation matrix, which I first spoke about in my book, Smart Work. It is primarily a framework to help managers and leaders to delegate work and track the delegation in the most appropriate way, but I think it has relevance here, because this Cc issue so often arises after work has been delegated (just like the training availability email example above).

In this framework, I suggest that when the risk is low and their experience is high, you take a hands-off approach with the delegation. When the risk is high, but their experience is low, you take a hands-on approach, and work closely with them as they gain experience. When their experience is high, but the risk is also high you might take an on-hand approach and be available if needed. And when their experience is low, but the risk is also low, you take a hold-hand approach, letting them do the work under your supervision. Each approach suggests different levels of oversight by the delegator.

If we overlay this framework on the use of Cc in a delegation, it might look like this:

  • Hands-off – No need to Cc me, I trust your experience
  • Hands-on – Please copy me as the risk is high and I can coach you where necessary
  • On-hand – Use your judgement and copy me if you feel it necessary
  • Hold-hand – Use your judgement or check with me if I want to be copied on these communications

If you have clear discussions with your team about your expectations around the use of Cc and the situations where it may be wise or where it might be unnecessary to copy you, you empower them to make more mindful and purposeful decisions on a day-to-day basis.

If you are a manager or leader, understand that trust does not increase from being copied on every email, but with knowing that your team have been coached to think for themselves and make good decisions. If you are a team member, understand that confidence does not come from looping your manager in on everything, but from good mentoring, experience and practice.

So, think carefully the next time you Cc your boss, or ask your team to copy you in on emails. If you are not sure, have a conversation with them and get on the same page. Everybody’s productivity will increase if you do this.

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