Why do some people work better than others? This question is the basis of a five-year research, supported by an unprecedented statistical analysis, carried out on over 5,000 managers and employees chosen from a wide range of jobs, functions and sectors.
This article tells how top performers simply work smarter and reveals the seven factors that will allow us to achieve high performance thanks to a series of useful tips that will reinvent and optimize the way we work.
7 factors that determine a way of working smarter
The result of the research led to the identification of seven fundamental practices that explain the achievement of high performance.
Working smarter means applying these 7 fundamental factors:
- Select a small set of priorities and make huge efforts in those areas you choose (narrow and deepen the scope of work).
- Focus on creating value, not just on achieving immediate goals (targeting).
- Avoid meaningless repetitions in favor of better training of skills (quality learning).
- Look for roles that bring together your passion with the sense of purpose (inner motivation).
- Implement tactics to influence others and thus obtain their support (advocacy).
- Eliminate unnecessary meetings and make sure that those actually needed provide intense and fruitful discussions (rigorous teamwork).
- Carefully choose which intersectoral projects to get involved in and reject the less productive ones (disciplined collaboration).
Putting the “Do less then obsess” principle into practice
It is a common opinion to think that those who work more, those who take on more responsibilities get better performances.
Instead, this research has shown that the most powerful practice for obtaining great results and producing exceptional quality is to focus on a few areas and obsessively delve into them. The people who chose this strategy scored an average of 25 percentage points more in their performance than those who pursued many priorities.
Dedicating too many activities means not being able to devote enough attention to each of them, moreover the energy required to manage the interrelationship between the various tasks leads people to waste time and to perform each task in a mediocre way.
To implement the principle of Do less then obsess follow these 3 strategies:
- Use the razor: eliminate unnecessary tasks, priorities, commissions, steps, metrics and procedures. Channel all your efforts to excel in the remaining businesses.
- Tied to the tree: set clear rules in advance to repel temptations and distractions. A trivial but effective rule may be, for example, not checking email for an hour.
- Say “no” to your boss: explain to your boss that adding more tasks to your to-do list will harm your performance. The path to greatness is not to please your boss in all circumstances, but to be able to refuse certain tasks so that you can apply more effort to excel in a few selected areas.
Redesigning one’s work in a work smarter perspective
The conventional idea of the work harder believes that the more hours you work the better your performance will be. The new perspective of the work smarter claims that if you already work 50 hours a week, adding more will not improve your performance, on the contrary it will worsen it.
To achieve great results, redesign your work, change the status quo and create new tasks, new goals and new metrics that maximize the value of your work.
Statistical analyzes carried out on 5,000 managers and employees have shown that under 50 hours per week, performance improves as you add hours, but, over 50, the advantage decreases, while over 65 hours, the addition of additional hours leads to a drop in performance.
Working too many hours is not a smart strategy.
Those who are good at redesigning work adopt an outside-in vision (from outside to inside) that defines the objectives, tasks and metrics in order to produce more “value”, understood as the benefits that work activities bring to the others.
Producing great value at work means creating outputs that are of great benefit to others , made efficiently and with high quality .
There are 5 ways to redesign work and create value:
- eliminate existing activities of little value;
- increase existing high-value activities;
- create new high-value activities;
- improve the quality of existing things;
- perform existing tasks more efficiently.
The “how” you learn can make a difference
The new perspective of the work smarter belies the belief that 10,000 working hours are sufficient to master a working competence.
It is not repetition that will make you perfect but the “how” you learn. It is that how to make the difference. Those who get the best performance at work implement the learning cycle by focusing on the quality of each repetition and not on the quantity. It is that type of exercise to improve one’s skills which has been defined – in reference to athletes and musicians – as “deliberate practice”.
The learning cycle is an approach in which you learn while doing your normal daily work: try a new approach in small things (for example, how to ask a question during a meeting) then measure the result, get quick feedback and then change your approach based on the feedback received (for example, ask the question in a different way).
Whoever learns effectively is able to divide a complex skill into micro behaviors, that is, small concrete actions that you do daily to improve a skill. The action must not last more than 15 minutes to be performed and corrected and must have a clear impact on the development of that ability.
Connect your passion to a purpose
The traditional vision urges you to follow your passion at any cost, no matter how hard you have to work. If you do what you love success will come, while if you ignore your passion you are preparing yourself for a shabby, unsatisfactory and full of fatigue career.
From the perspective of the w ork smarter, passion is the key but doing only what you love is bad advice that can lead to failure and ruin. The best thing is to try to connect passion with the sense of a goal to aim for.
People who combine passion and purpose generate a tremendous amount of energy that they apply at every moment of their work. They do not work more hours but aim for maximum effort per hour of work.
Our research has shown that:
- It is not a question of following or ignoring one’s passion, to obtain great results the secret is to combine it with the achievement of a goal.
- The managers and employees who combined their passion with a purpose achieved 18% better performance than those who did not.
- Those who have combined passion and purpose are more energetic, and are able to produce more work for each hour of activity, without having to work more hours.
To expand your passion and gain a sense of purpose, there are 3 methods:
- Discover a new role. It is not necessary to change profession, just find a different role, an assignment that best suits your passions.
- Expand the cycle of passion. Feeling passionate does not just mean enjoying pleasure in doing your job, passion can derive from success, creativity, social interactions, learning new skills. Expand the cycle of passion by experiencing these dimensions.
- Climb the pyramid of purpose. Find ways to add value by making sure your contribution doesn’t hurt anyone. Look for activities that have a personal meaning for you, for example activities that have a clear social mission.
We often think that it is sufficient to repeatedly explain the wonderful merits of our case for leaders and colleagues to intervene in our support. We believe that determination, perseverance and passion will allow us to overcome what is opposed to our efforts. These beliefs lead us to work harder and apply massive effort to overcome obstacles.
The smarter perspective tells us that top performers do not simply discuss their ideas rationally, they induce others to support them by implementing two maneuvers: they inspire, evoking emotions in the individuals they need and use an intelligent determination, personalizing and adapting their tactics to the opponents and resistances they face.
Strong champions use a variety of behaviors to stir emotions and encourage colleagues to support their efforts:
- They make people excited for tomorrow.
- They do not say but show: they use suggestive photos and demos to arouse emotions.
- They instill a sense of purpose in people, connecting boring daily activities to a greater end.
- The strong champions manifest an intelligent determination to break down the resistances, the oppositions and to gather support for their projects.
- They consider their opponents’ perspective by putting themselves in their shoes, they adapt tactics to the specific interests of their opponents.
- They face opponents when necessary.
- When necessary they make acceptable concessions to appease their opponents.
- They co-opt their opponents, make them enter the project so that they too feel a sense of responsibility and belonging.
- They exert pressure by mobilizing people to support their cause.
More productive meetings and better team unity
The traditional perspective of the work harder believes that to maximize the performance of a team, the participation of the best and the brightest must be solicited, and that many meetings must be scheduled.
The new perspective of the work smarter has shown that in order to maximize the performance of a team it is necessary to optimize the group debate and to prioritize diversity over individual talent.
Much of a team’s joint work occurs during group meetings.
The effectiveness of a team and individual performances depend on the quality of these meetings.
Our research found that most people (69%) complain about the unproductiveness of meetings.
There are 2 downsides that make team meetings fail:
- Rigorous battles and debates cannot be held in which new ideas are explored and new hypotheses scrutinized;
- It is not possible to put into practice, to implement the decisions made.
To have productive comparisons in meetings, follow the following strategy: maximize diversity and not talent; make it safe and easy for everyone to speak; presented as a lawyer not as a seller.
To improve the unity of a team: make sure everyone has a voice (being heard produces agreement); take a stand, especially when you absolutely don’t agree on something; face the first women; highlights the ultimate goal of the team.
5 rules to regulate collaboration
Research has shown that too much collaboration is as bad as little collaboration. A disciplined collaboration is the only effective one.
Organizations and employees fight against two sins: too much collaboration and little collaboration, some speak too much with the team and between departments, some too little.
To avoid these two extremes, the top performers regulate the collaboration: they carefully select which activities to participate in and then follow specific rules so that the chosen collaboration activities are effective.
Disciplined collaboration consists of the following 5 rules:
- Establish the business case – a compelling reason – for any proposed collaboration initiative, large or small. If it is questionable, if there is a doubt, reject it.
- Create a unifying goal that excites people, so that this project is prioritized.
- Reward people for the results of the collaboration and not for the activities carried out or for the amount of work done.
- Engage all resources – time, skills and money – in collaboration. If you can’t get these resources, either reduce the scope or completely eliminate it.
- Use trust busters immediately to resolve specific trust issues. For example, when you are unsure of your partner, you can take pilot tests, or ask them to commit themselves publicly, or share personal information so that everyone knows each other better.