SINK OR SWIM

Stuart White 09-04-2021 9:30 AM
Categories: HRMC Articles written by Managing Director, Stuart White

 

SINK OR SWIM

One of my first jobs was a recruitment consultant in an agency in Johannesburg.  New to the game I hadn’t a clue about what I was doing and I was not working for the type of company that had training, mentorship, coaching or anything else to get you up to speed or facilitate employee performance. You were simply thrown into the deep end because management believed that if you had potential you would figure out how to swim. Those who drowned were then thrown to the sharks, in the form of becoming unemployed, so there was significant incentive to stay afloat.

So, there we were, all rookie consultants working tirelessly to be successful – a long hard slog full of challenges, errors, and endless effort.  Except for one consultant however who used to saunter into work late, make a small number of calls, quickly see a few candidates and then was off again. With what appeared minimal effort she surpassed all the other consultants combined sales targets. It made a stupendous impression on me that being busy, working hard and toil and sweat are not the sure-fire way to get results. My parents were the epitome of this – good, salt of the earth, hard working people every day of their life yet having very little to show for it. Although I knew something was off, I hadn’t sussed what.

It would take me years to fully grasp what effectiveness and success looked like. I remember when I had progressed into a senior management role, I still had a myopic attitude towards personal effectiveness. I used to work up until 9 every night, caught in the busy-ness trap! In those days I felt my value was not how I impacted on my job or the company but on how much I worked and my level of commitment. Reflecting on that time I realise that I rarely questioned what I was doing at work because everything I was involved in felt important. Duh – otherwise I wouldn’t be doing it - attending meetings, writing emails, doing whatever... Today I would be hard pressed to identify a legacy that I left, despite how hard I worked and the excessive hours I devoted. Note that I say, ‘hours I devoted to that job’, not its impact. Today, if I worked until 9 every night, I’d either be asking myself what am I doing wrong or be salivating over my bank balance because I would have made so much money. I simply wouldn’t work that many hours unless the reward was significant – why would anyone?

I am not saying putting in the hours isn’t important because it is – very important. But real effectiveness is knowing what to do, when to do it, what really matters and adds value and what doesn’t. It’s a clarity of mind that allows one to question cause and effect which distinguishes those who are successful from those who are not.

You have probably already heard of the Pareto principle or the 80:20 rule. When I was younger I hadn’t and in those early days I wished someone had explained it to me. This principal states that 80% of the results will come from 20% of the causes. A simple statement with such profundity! I think this is what the super successful recruitment consultant knew that the rest of us didn’t. 80% of her productivity came from just 20% of her time. While the rest of us were sharpening our pencils and getting ready for the day by organising our desk, planning our diary, having staff meetings or whatever, she was prioritising what was critical. Instead of her attending to 8 of the 10 trivial things on the to-do-list, like the rest of us, she was investing her time on the essential 2, knowing that it is going to be worth the same, or more, than the other 8 put together.

It’s funny because in my experience I observe that in most cases people do the opposite and prioritise all the insignificant stuff and leave the vital 20% until last. A case in point is in my own organisation where I will find so much activity by the business development team devoted to doing everything else imaginable except the one thing they have been created for and that’s to sell! This thinking should expand to all aspects of business and your life.  Consider for example your customer base – if the low value customers are taking up a disproportionate amount of your time, you need to take action. What would happen if you invested that time into growing your high value customers instead?

I think being ‘busy’ makes us feel good. When I used to work endless hours, it did two things for me – proved to myself that I wasn’t lazy and that I was trying harder than everyone else and thus worthy of my position. It was also because I didn’t know any better and had not learnt to think before acting. Eventually I realised there was no point in constantly coasting through work life living a version of ‘busy’ that did not result in growth or success - because I was just filling my time with stuff that wasn’t getting me what I wanted. The only criteria to use is what is important, defined as adding to your results, mission, or raison d'être.

So here is the message I want to send to y’all today. It doesn’t matter how many hours a day you’re working – being busy is not going to make you successful! The only place you are going to be rewarded for time is in prison. Padding your day with back-to-back meetings or counting the paper clips in your desk drawer might make you feel important, but what are you achieving? Are you drowning, treading water, doggy-paddling or putting in a winning crawl?  Remember Edison’s equation that genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.  Now combine that with the  Pareto principle and 20% should definitely give you the results you want to achieve today. Then you can use the other 80% to do life!

 

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