If you run anything from a two-person team to a large organization, "doing more with less" isn't just an annoying cliché; it's reality. Until AI's and robots are running the world, we humans are called upon to be ever more scalable, which boils down to three related themes:
1) Increasing your workload capacity without giving up more of your life
2) Enhancing your time management (e.g., meetings, emails, work time, think time)
3) Improving the quality of your output, product, service, and/or outcomes
These scalability improvements often need to happen during tough times. Almost everyone faces challenges with recruiting, administration, expense and revenue pressures, etc. Yet these are often the times enhancing scalability can make the difference between surviving and thriving.
Here's What Works
If you're anything like my coaching clients, you're wondering, "Okay, so now what?" Here are three levers that I've repeatedly found help people upgrade their scalability.
1. Recruit/retain high capability/capacity/potential people, eliminate hurdles in their way, and let them run
Select and retain people who care a lot about what they do, the quality with which they do it, their ability to work without heavy supervision, and good attitudes about helping each other. Have the courage to look at your people through this lens, and, after giving reasonable support and opportunities, eliminate those who fall short without undue delay.
Once you have the right person, let them run—give them responsibility and authority. Look at what you’re holding on to doing yourself and/or micromanaging what they’re doing, and offload offload offload to them. Create good ways for them to keep you updated on the important things and implement/enhance your standards about when you need to be involved versus informed.
Ask and listen to your key people regularly regarding: 1) their workload in relation to their capacity, 2) their ability to prioritize quality over quantity, 3) their willingness/capacity to help out their colleagues, and 4) what hurdles you can remove that are getting in their way. Failure to do this is a failure of leadership; so if it’s been a while, you may want to try it with a few of your people and see what you learn.
2. Discern when a great idea is distraction rather than a great addition, without missing the next big thing
It’s way easier to come up with great ideas than to discern whether or not it’s worthwhile to do them. Many of my clients are faced every week with a truckload of shiny new ones that sound like, “We should be doing that,” “Why aren’t we doing that?”, “Wouldn’t it be cool if we could…”, “We need to take a look at that,” and “They’re doing that, so shouldn’t we?”
Great people want to do it all and are inclined to say “yes” too often. Yet there’s already a vision and roadmap ongoing, thank you very much. Yessing too much creates churn, confusion, role/responsibility fuzziness and an inability to deliver on priorities. After all, if you take on everything you’ll get nothing done and distract everyone. Take on nothing and you miss the next big thing, or at least risk getting out of date with what clients, customers, or constituents need or want.
I recommend my clients consider three standards when the next idea or fire drill shows up:
- Discovery without derailment: Can this idea be evaluated for return on investment or expectations without derailing the current path?
- Steadfastness of vision and roadmap: If your vision and roadmap are solid, is there a compelling reason to add this to it?
- Openness to changing the game: Regardless of the above, is this idea likely in a relevant timeframe to change the game, and therefore do we need to change our vision and roadmap?
If the result of those standards is not to pursue an idea, no matter how compelling, it’s necessary to say “no” in ways the right people can absorb, which, ironically, is usually “Yes, and…” followed by “here’s what we would have to stop doing or cut back on if we did it.” That’s often easier than “No” to something that seems or sounds fabulous.
3. Own your calendar and time, rather than be owned by them
I ask my clients to, 1) add modest blocks of sacred (i.e., non-changeable) time to their calendar daily or several times a week to think and reflect, 2) define when, outside of work, they will do work, and stick with it, 3) identify a handful of priorities each week, and stick with them, and 4) stop letting things get added to their calendar without passing a few tests:
- Will your participation in this add value to your current highest priorities, those of a colleague, and/or those of the organization overall?
- Is it something that can be done virtually rather than take up a chunk of time?
- Will it speed up, slow down, or have a neutral impact to the current vision and/or roadmap?
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There are many suggestions here, and I never recommend someone try and do all of them. That said, if you find something here you think may be useful, I encourage you to try it, and let me (or someone in your world) know what you discover. I think you’ll no doubt find it value-added for you and potentially your organization overall.