March 16, 2017
Editor's Choice: Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power
Time, Talent, Energy: Overcome Organizational Drag and Unleash Your Team’s Productive Power by Michael C. Mankins & Eric Garton, Harvard Business Review Press, 240 pages, $32.00, March 2017, ISBN 9781633691766
Michael Mankins and Eric Garton identify a troubling trend in their new book, Time, Talent, Energy: while the outside world is speeding up and changing faster than ever before, the corporate world is slowing down. It is taking longer to make decisions, hire new people, finish big projects, to get… work… done. In short, productivity is slowing. And that’s not anecdotal; the recent jobs report showed that “productivity of American workers grew at a slower pace in fourth quarter and last year recorded the smallest annual gain in five years,” and the authors note that “overall productivity growth has declined appreciably since 2007.”
Part of that has to do, ironically, with the ways in which the world is speeding up, with changes in technology. For one, thing, e-communications have ballooned the number of messages and communications we have to manage every day. Whereas a busy executive might receive 20 messages a day in the days when they were received by phone and taken by hand, they can now expect as many as 200 messages through email every day. It’s also made meetings easier to schedule and attend, and meeting time has skyrocketed. All of this requires time, often wastes it, and slows things down—and the rise of intraoffice messaging and meeting technologies are only compounding the problem.
Instead of faulting individual effort, leaders need to step back and look at the overall picture. The problem isn’t that employees need to manage their time better. Companies have to learn to manage their organizational time differently—to simplify where and how work is done, and remove layers of complexity within the organization that impedes that work. They have to reduce what Mankins and Garton call organizational drag:
We use the term organizational drag to describe all the ways in which an organization eats up people’s time. It’s the meetings, the emails and phone calls, the bureaucratic process and procedures. Some of these are essential. Others are pure time wasters.
Mankins and Garton’s research suggests most companies lose about a day a week to these kind of productivity killers, and they’ll show you how to get it back by eliminating both needless meetings and structures. But, though important, wasting less time isn’t enough to overcome organizational drag, just reduce it. Time, as Peter Drucker said, may be our scarcest resource, but it isn’t our only one. And, as access to capital and technology is increasingly cheap and abundant, the resource that is most unique to your company is its people—the talent and energy of people in your organization. Because of that, you must put as much focus on how you manage your talent as how you manage your finances. Increasing the discretionary effort they put into your business is key to your success. And that is what exactly what Time, Talent, Energy aims to do.
You will take a diagnostic test of your company’s productive power (you can find one at www.timetalentenergy.com if you’d like to get started now) that will highlight where your organization is weakest, and the “chapters that follow will put flesh on the numerical bones”—explaining how to organize and structure time (again, organizational, not individual), where to deploy the “difference makers” in your organization, how to manage teams and collaboration, and how to engage and even inspire your employees.
So many of their lessons in the book are simple and practical, like how to run meetings that work, how to clarify and simplify your operating model and overall structure to reduce work, or how to find, attract, and deploy talent. But the big boost in productivity comes when you can harness and unleash your talent’s energy within the organization. And you can’t do that through micromanagement. It is, as the authors not, not only expensive and time consuming:
[N]o one has yet figured out how to micromanage employees into coming up with great ideas, willingly going the extra mile for a customer, collaborating selflessly with peers, or adapting quickly to a changing marketplace. Yet these are the skills most companies require in today’s world.
If you want your employees to be productive, set them free. But that’s not enough, and neither are most employee engagement efforts. You have to aim to inspire them.
People typically become engaged with their work through one of three methods. They may be attached to the content of the work itself. They may feel engaged because of connections to people—the bosses they work for and the teams they work with. They may believe in the company’s purpose. … [T]he deeply inspired employee is attached in all three.
It all starts with developing what the authors call a humane philosophy of the workplace. But being partners at Bain & Company, they quickly get into the nuts and bolts of implementation, how companies can “put that philosophy into practice though their operating model, talents systems, employee value propositions, and ways of working.” They will teach you how to help employees build a real connection to their work, how to balance autonomy with accountability, and how to develop other leaders that do so. They will help you build what they believe is “the most enduring source of competitive advantage”—a winning culture. To do so, they lay out the building blocks for you to begin building that culture with, knowing that such a culture will not only fight organizational drag, it will naturally attract even more talent to your organization. It sounds soft and squishy, but they make it incredibly straightforward. And it’s not really soft. It is about raising ambitions and increasing performance, about realigning you company’s structure to align with its priorities—strategic and otherwise.
If you want to increase productivity, focus on the organizational, not the individual level. If you do the former, the latter will follow.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.