People are the lifeblood of any organization, but getting the right people on the bus is a real challenge.
First, you need to build a strong brand and company that talented people want to work for. Then, you must attract, evaluate, and hire candidates who have the right skills, share the organization’s values, and are satisfied with the compensation the company can offer. Third, you must empower your employees to deliver and create a fulfilling work environment so that they actually stick around.
That third step is usually where things come undone. The larger an organization gets, the more likely it is to inadvertently sabotage its people’s ability to make decisions and get things done. Below are a number of common symptoms of this, their underlying causes, and actionable solutions.
Symptom: Our People Can’t Make Decisions
Cause: A consensus-seeking culture
Instead of empowering people to make decisions and move forward, we seek consensus for almost everything. Amazon’s Jeff Bezos eloquently highlighted the folly of such cultures in a 2016 letter to shareholders, where he makes the distinction between what he calls “Type 1” and “Type 2” decisions.
Type 1 decisions are big, hairy, irreversible, high stakes, and require careful consideration. Type 2 decisions are inconsequential, reversible, and should be made quickly. Most decisions are Type 2 decisions, and Bezos warns that many people unnecessarily use the rigorous Type 1 decision-making process on even these small decisions. As a result, companies move slowly, cultivate an aversion to risk, fail to experiment sufficiently, and diminish invention. All of this, in turn, increases workplace stress, which is closely linked to our sense of control, or lack thereof.
- Clearly delineate between Type 1 and Type 2 decisions, and empower people to make more of the latter.
- Push back on Type 2 consensus-seeking when you can.
- Consider lowering delegations of authority for decisions where it is reasonable to do so.
Symptom: Our People Can’t Think
The average employee is interrupted 50-60 times per day, and about 80 percent of these interruptions are unimportant. Each of these interruptions prevents people from getting into what psychologists call “the flow state” — you might know it as “the zone” — an optimal cognitive state wherein we are up to five times more productive than we normally are.
Today, the typical workplace is characterized by the sights and sounds of desktop and smartphone notifications, which keep people in a state of hyper-responsiveness that puts Pavlov’s dog to shame. What we call multitasking is in actuality task switching, and after a notification has forced us to switch between tasks, it can take us 23 minutes to get back into flow. When you consider that the average employee touches their smartphone 2,617 times per day, checks emails 74 times per day and receives 46 smartphone notifications per day, you may wonder whether your workers are able to spend any time in a flow state at all! Even task switches that individually take just a tenth of a second — like glancing at a notification but not pursuing it — can add up to a 40 percent productivity loss over the course of a day.
- Clearly communicate to employees the impact that task switching and interruptions can have on productivity.
- Train people to block off time in their calendars for deep focus. Employees should turn off notifications during these periods of time.
- Let employees know they don’t need to respond to most requests immediately.
- Stop interrupting people sporadically throughout the day…