For Some Managers, Doing Less Is More -- Leadership In Human Resources Report
Most managers are familiar with the idea that no matter how busy they are, they could do more. There's always another project to take on, another meeting to attend, another email to answer.
Well, now there's a new school of thought about how managers are supposed to get more done -- and done better.
They should just do less.
'Everybody says their days are too short,' says J. Keith Murnighan, a professor at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and author of 'Do Nothing! How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader.' The key to unlocking greater productivity, Dr. Murnighan says, is to just say no: to switch off the email pings, decline meeting invitations and get home in time for dinner.
In fact, dozens of studies all say the same thing: Doing less, and doing it without interruptions, can be the key to being a more productive manager and entrepreneur. A 2008 study by researchers at University of California, Irvine, and Humboldt University in Berlin, for instance, found that constant interruptions cause work to suffer and 'people to change not only work rhythms but also strategies and mental states.'
According to study co-author Gloria Mark, a professor at Irvine, 'Stress went up significantly when being interrupted.' The cause of the stress, she says: 'having to keep shifting your attention.'
But while executives may understand intellectually that busy days at the office don't equal productivity, putting laziness into practice is more difficult than it sounds. Reorganizations that allow executives to focus less on day-to-day tasks are crucial but can take months or years, says Stephan Liozu, a corporate consultant and adjunct professor at Case Western Reserve University. Other helpful steps, he says, can be enforcing interruption-free vacations and requiring detailed job descriptions that free up senior managers from work that can be easily delegated to others.
Even when companies say they want to make a change, Mr. Liozu says, most don't act on it. 'They are stuck,' he says. He adds that he often asks executives to stop sending emails on weekends to make it clear to others that they are off the clock. But many executives don't know how to slow down and meet more reasonable deadlines.
'Being busy and acting busy can be addictive,' Mr. Liozu says.
Despite such general skepticism, there are executives and managers who follow the do-more-by-doing-less principle and find that it works for them. Kyle McDowell, a Tampa-based vice president at UnitedHealth Group Inc., says he keeps his morning calendar clear to assess strategic goals. And when looking at job candidates, he ranks passion for the work above having the exact skills needed. He feels confident delegating even the most challenging projects to his enthusiastic reports, he says, because they are more willing to take chances. 'A lot of folks confuse output and effort,' says Mr. McDowell.
Jeff Zwelling, a founder of five tech companies, recently spoke to a group of potential investors about his latest company, Convertro, a media measurement firm based in Santa Monica, Calif. Mr. Zwelling, chief executive and co-founder of the company, says he told the group that he personally follows an eight-hour workday -- a rarity in the startup world known for 90-hour weeks.
'I may go to Pilates at 3 p.m. and don't want you to think I'm a crappy CEO because of that,' Mr. Zwelling says he told the group. 'You're buying into someone who has a track record of success,' he says he assured them. Success, he adds, comes from 'not overwhelming myself with everyday tasks.'
Mr. Zwelling says he prefers hiring employees who have serious hobbies outside of work. It makes them more effective on the job, he says, because they want to have time left over for their other interests. He also leads by example, he says, explaining to each new hire that he works hard while at the office, which means not wasting time on social media or surfing the Web.
At office-furniture-maker Steelcase Inc., Donna Flynn, director of workspace futures, works at her own pace and lets her staff of behavioral researchers do the same. 'There are a lot of benefits to walking away from a problem you are fixated on solving and letting your subconscious do its work underneath the surface,' says Ms. Flynn, whose office is on her 20-acre ranch in Nederland, Colo., while the company's headquarters are in Grand Rapids, Mich.
Ms. Flynn's team is based all over the world. Rather than scheduling video conferences and calls to stay in daily contact, the researchers work on long-term projects on their own time and meet in person only two weeks a year.
Not keeping in constant contact, Ms. Flynn says, allows everyone to work more effectively. 'It's about having higher-quality work time, because you spend more time nourishing your well-being,' she says.
To be sure, not every personality is cut out for the kinds of behavioral adjustment that doing less on a daily basis can require. According to Dr. Murnighan, many executives feel the need to keep up appearances and find it tough to fight the natural inclination to stay busy.
'A lot of people are Type A,' he says. 'Our ancestors wouldn't have survived if they weren't proactive.'
西北大学(Northwestern University)凯洛格商学院(Kellogg School of Management)教授、《什么都别做！如何不再过度管理成为伟大领导者》(Do Nothing! How to Stop Overmanaging and Become a Great Leader)一书作者J·凯斯·莫尼根(J. Keith Murnighan)说：“每个人都说他们的时间不够用。”莫尼根博士指出，释放更高生产率的关键就是说“不”：关闭电子邮件提醒、拒绝会议邀请、准时回家吃晚饭。
事实上，几十项研究都得出了相同的结论：少做事、做的时候全心投入不受外界干扰，是成为更高效管理者和企业家的关键。比如加州大学欧文分校(University of California, Irvine)和柏林洪堡大学(Humboldt University)的研究人员在2008年开展的一项研究发现，持续的干扰会影响工作的完成，也会导致人不仅要改变工作节奏，还得调整工作计划和精神状态。
然而，虽然管理者们心里可能很清楚在办公室不停的忙碌并不等同于有效率，但真要放手不干却是说得容易做起来难。企业顾问、凯斯西储大学(Case Western Reserve University)兼职教授斯蒂芬·里奥祖(Stephan Liozu)说，重新进行组织规划、以便让管理者们少花精力在日常事务上这一步非常重要，但也许要经历数月或数年才能完成。他说，其他有用的方法还有：强迫休假同时避免任何干扰；制定详细的职务说明、把高管们从那些可以轻松交由他人代办的工作中释放出来。
尽管有这么多的怀疑，但那些遵照“少做就是多做”原则的高管和管理者们发现这一招对他们很管用。联合健康集团(UnitedHealth Group Inc.)驻坦帕市(Tampa)的副总裁凯尔·麦克道尔(Kyle McDowell)说，他会把早上的时间空出来评估战略目标。在考量应聘者的时候，他会把工作热情排在专业技能之上。他说，对于那些满怀工作热情的下属，即便把最难的项目交给他们他也会很放心，因为这样的员工更愿意做各种尝试。麦克道尔说：“许多人把结果和努力混为一谈。”
创立了五家科技公司的杰夫·韦林(Jeff Zwelling)近日向一批潜在投资者介绍他最近在加州 塔莫尼卡(Santa Monica)成立的媒体评估公司Convertro。作为公司首席执行长、联合创始人，韦林告诉这些投资者，他个人遵守工作日八小时的工作时间——这在以每周工作90个小时而著称的初创企业圈中实属罕见。
办公家具生产商Steelcase Inc.的研究团队“未来办公空间”(WorkSpace Futures)的主管唐娜·弗林(Donna Flynn)按照自己的步调工作，而且也让她那些做行为研究的下属这样做。弗林说：“暂时抛开你苦苦寻找解决办法的那个问题、让你的潜意识在下面工作，这样做有很多的益处。”她的办公室位于她在科罗拉多州尼德兰(Nederland)占地20英亩的农场里，而公司总部设在密歇根州的大急流城(Grand Rapids)。