Become more unproductive!

As a leader, you are the least productive worker in the company. You don’t occupy a central role in core processes, nor do you have a direct influence on the procurement of critical resources, for example. And working with you costs others time and holds them up. My tip: Do more of it!

In the 1980s, the two concepts of continuous improvement (kaizen) and just-in-time production spilled over from the automotive industry to other industries. Companies were examined for inefficiencies and subjected to the primacy of manufacturing processes that were as free of wear as possible. This was driven by the first ERP systems, which mapped value chains and thus created the stirrup for a new function in the company: controlling.

From then on, companies had their pulse taken in all possible and impossible places. The first signs of illness were immediately treated. Unfortunately, this also shifted the focus in companies: Away from leadership and toward management, away from opportunities and toward problems. This period also saw the so-called Theory X, which essentially assumed that people could be controlled (“managed”) in a targeted manner through incentives - in other words, a first attempt to keep people’s unpredictable behavior in order.

This did indeed work for a while and led to enormous prosperity - but also to enormous differences and - this seems essential to me - to a desire on the part of many employees to break out of such tight corsets, to expand their own scope for action and creativity, to move more independently in work processes. And so companies find themselves in a situation where they have to explain to existing and future employees as simply as possible (see #attitude no. 20) why they should work in this company (and not in another one).

Yet this very task is completely unproductive and rarely produces a directly measurable impact, thus eluding any therapy-focused scales. By the way, companies already realized this in the 1980s and understood that they should not only blindly orient themselves according to efficiency criteria, but also consciously produce “necessary wear and tear “ for their good functioning: Investments to strengthen trust, bonding and joy. But who should produce this wear and tear? Are there predestined positions or functions in the company for this purpose?

You know the answer - and therefore my appeal: Become less productive and generate as much necessary wear and tear as possible and thus connectivity and gravity. Here are three concrete suggestions:

Sensitize leadership teams.

Unfortunately, leadership teams get lost in operational depths all the time. While this is understandable, who doesn’t like to take care of what he/she understands. Still, leadership teams wish more of their meetings included strategic or design topics - this is your opportunity!

Attend your leaders’ meetings. Disrupt routines with your presence alone and talk about the importance of creating necessary wear and tear. Encourage leaders to look unproductive and weave the fine cloth between all employees and around the organization (in my book I talk about nurturing the membrane).

Lead entry interviews

One of the characteristics of the modern workday is that individual employees not only work in different places, but also on different projects and in different roles. This creates individual rhythms that are increasingly difficult to synchronize. The exception is the entry interview. Often, the first day is rather administrative and is meticulously planned by many companies so that the new employee can orient herself and move around as quickly as possible. Or, in other words, she is quite easy to grasp on this day.

Ask for a time slot of 15 to 30 minutes in the induction program and use the chance to explain the culture, values and way of cooperation to the new employees in your own words. Ideally, do this in a one-on-one meeting. Or form groups if the sheer volume of new employees leaves no other option. Either way, you are the top culture minister in the company and should take every opportunity to effectively implement your role.

Adopt training modules

Companies encourage off-the-job employee development with a variety of content: Technical courses, communication training and leadership skills are regularly found in internal offerings. They are conducted by external or internal specialists.

These events are particularly suitable for producing “necessary wear and tear”. Take over such an event yourself and use the chance to build or strengthen bridges to employees. I regularly experience that even long-time employees surprisingly always have questions that should have been answered much earlier. In addition, thanks to such events, you will see how permeable the silos really are, or how interdisciplinarity is actually practiced in the company.

It seems to me that the easiest way to do this is to fill a role and a task as part of internal management development. The current environment is unsettling for many leaders and allows you to personally deliver what you believe is helpful information and be available to leaders in unstructured Q&A sessions. Other opportunities arise in courses on business topics such as customer acquisition, conflict resolution, or strategic business development. Pick and choose what you are passionate about, what suits you best, and what you enjoy.

FAZIT: Of course, “necessary wear and tear” is anything but unproductive. Nevertheless, it likes to move into the background. My three suggestions create unexcited chances for you to use your necessary unproductivity productively.

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