Most executive teams are gluttonous at the buffet when it comes to imagining—and then planning—all they will do in the coming year. Almost as soon as the efforts get underway, folks get overloaded. Then the senior leaders bring in consultants (like us) to help them cut, curb, shrink, and skinny down that list of commitments.
How wonderful would it be if this “capacity management” lens was brought to bear before and during the planning period, keeping an eye on capacity as initiatives and dream projects were considered? But that’s not what happens. There are so many good ideas for the growth, expansion, and evolution of products that it’s easy to say yes, yes, yes to every desire.
For a short time, this insatiability for more overtook even us at the Juliet Funt Group. During the book launch period for A Minute to Think, it was very hard to say no to opportunities. It was my first book, and I wanted to go all in. But by the end of 2021, after a stream of enthusiastic yeses to almost everything, our team was a little crispy. So, we did one of my favorite interventions in the history of our company: “The Year of No New Things.” We just decided to stop. And it was glorious.
Of course, we continued to take on new clients, but we built no new products, we hired no new staff, and we explored no new technology for all of 2022. We went deep on the things we already had. It was a bold choice that worked well for a boutique firm, and this approach may not be a fit for every company, but the relief we felt does speak to something universal: when you do fewer things, the quality of work and the joy of work flourish.
An R-P-M Framework for Saying Yes to the Right Thing
Long before you get to exciting new things, you need to make room for them by stripping away the unnecessary: simplify, simplify, simplify, and then manage future capacity with eyes wide open.
The first move is to separate high-value work from low-value work. That means removing “weight from the backpack” of workers to address waste—the emails, meetings, decks, and reports that clog up the workflow and create organizational drag. (Our company has a unique quantification process that we use with our clients to quantify the cost of low-value work that shows a cost of a million dollars annually in lost talent time for every 50 people at the average company.) Then you can say yes and no to the right things—and manage them well—to take you where you want to go.
Here’s a way to frame it in your mind: prioritize the Rs, cut the Ps, and manage the Ms.
The 4 Rs of High-Value Work: When evaluating tasks, it is essential to prioritize the following types of activity:
- Revenue: The financial aspect of work. Money-generating activities and projects that contribute to the financial success of the organization.
- Reputation: The brand image and perception of the organization. Tasks that enhance reputation, including marketing efforts and activities that positively shape the organization’s image.
- Reward: The intrinsic motivation and fulfillment derived from meaningful work. Tasks that provide a sense of purpose and joy, fostering a positive work environment.
- Readiness: Being prepared for future challenges. Systems, training, standard operating procedures, and preparations ensure the organization is primed to adapt and respond to its demands effectively.
The 4 Ps of Low-Value Work: In contrast, low-value work can be identified through the following (and then targeted for elimination):
- Panicking: Hasty and irrational decision-making driven by anxiety and fear. Tasks that arise from an agitated state rather than measured and strategic actions.
- Pandering: Fulfilling illogical demands that do not contribute significantly to progress. Tasks driven solely by the desires of senior management without a clear business rationale.
- Procedure: Excessive bureaucracy and red tape that hinder productivity. Tasks that are part of cumbersome procedures and protocols that work against streamlined and efficient workflows.
- Padding: Unnecessary extras that add bulk and lost effort. Tasks that involve inviting irrelevant participants to meetings, drowning people in digital communication, or requesting excessive reports or information.
Work through the 4 Rs and the 4 Ps first.