Time to see the forest through the trees (editorial)

When top executives hear employees are working full-throttle they laud themselves — and their managers — on the ability to hit high levels of productivity. Stress, and the burnout it causes, are seen as a cost of doing business. Those who fall by the wayside are simply rolled into turnover stats.

So while HR professionals may shake their heads at senior leaders who brush off tales of time-crunched employees, there may be another argument to dispel the notion that productivity is all that matters. Pursuing productivity at all costs leaves little room for anything else. This is where opportunities to improve competitiveness are being lost.

When daily routines necessitate full attention to productivity — or just plain getting the job done ASAP — there’s little room for chasing opportunities that could benefit the organization and the bottom line.

Unfortunately, while productivity can be measured — lost opportunities go unrecorded.

Consider this scenario.
It’s yet another busy day, you thought about letting voice mail take your calls, but you picked up anyway. Someone from outside of the company inquires about collaborating on a project. She asks if she can send some information about the proposal. It does seem worth pursuing, and you tell her you’ll get in touch after reviewing the material.

The package arrives a few days later and is put aside while you attend to pressing departmental items. Days turn into weeks and the package ends up in the middle of a pile of similar items — i.e. pieces of paper in that spot on your desk you allot for leads and great ideas requiring analysis.

Your would-be collaborator eventually calls you. She graciously accepts your apology about how busy you are, and now there’s some more time for you to get at the proposal. Then a corporate initiative lands on your desk, and a valued staff member becomes a turnover stat and you’re off recruiting. When your contact calls again, the tone in her voice suggests your busy excuse is losing its lustre. But she agrees to give you some more time.

A few months later, while cleaning your desk, you come across the long-avoided proposal. It’s too awkward to call the contact now. The paper goes into the recycling bin. The opportunity is lost. And, it’s a lost opportunity no one in the organization will even know about. An unmeasured loss due to the corporate time-crunch.

The difficulty in measuring these losses is the problem confronting HR professionals who see more time away from the routine as an avenue for greater innovation and external partnering. Executives need to appreciate that time is a valuable commodity. Spending it all on the routine is a case of penny-wise, pound-foolish.

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