An article in the March-April 2023 edition of the Harvard Business Review titled Beware a Culture of Busyness had a very strong message to share with readers: “Organizations must stop conflating activity with achievement.” It explains why busyness has become so valued in organizations these days as well as the significant damage that results from prioritizing and rewarding busyness. If you get a chance to read/listen to the article and want to share your thoughts with us, feel free to do so.
We would like to add our own thoughts based on what we have seen from helping B2B companies achieve strategic revenue growth for almost two decades. In our efforts to help move organizations away from a busyness culture we’re discussing the dangers of being busy, who is to blame for today’s busyness culture, and how to evolve to increase profitable revenue.
Understanding The Cost of Busyness
When people say things like, “Busy isn’t always better” what they usually mean is that being busy does not necessarily indicate that you are doing a good job. This is what the whole “Work smarter, not harder” argument is based on – the idea that doing good work is better than doing a lot of work. And yet, simply examining the issue of busyness from an efficiency standpoint misses a crucial component – the damage that busyness can cause.
It is dangerous for business leadership to value busyness because of the costs associated with doing so. An emphasis on busyness feels like it should yield significant rewards. Afterall, if everyone is busy, they must be doing something that is producing revenue, right? Wrong! In most cases busyness is not simply spinning your wheels, it is driving 100mph in the wrong direction.
Why? Because a focus on busyness:
- Reduces efficiency due to switching costs when moving between tasks.
- Stifles creativity (reducing creative thinking and turning creative outputs into a commodity).
- Increases exhaustion and mistakes, especially among skilled employees.
- Reduces employee engagement and loyalty.
- Leads to burnout at all levels, especially in roles where employees are wearing multiple hats.
- Increases turnover.
- Leads to a less favorable view of the company internally, which may hurt future recruiting efforts.
- Increases and/or exacerbates employees’ health problems.
- Dries up the pipeline by focusing too many resources on servicing existing customers.
- Reduces selling effectiveness.
- Does not leave time for listening to employees or customers to create meaningful connections.
- Derails strategic plans.
All these busyness byproducts have considerable costs, which can stifle growth and threaten a business’s future.
Everyone wants to point the finger when it comes to assigning blame for today’s culture of busyness. Employees blame their employers for asking so much of them and employers blame investors for demanding ever-increasing results. The fact of the matter is that employers are not solely to blame. Business partners and investors play a role in the demand for busyness, but so do customers. Studies show that customers equate effort with worth, strongly preferring products that require more time/skill/effort to produce. However, those groups are not the only ones to blame.
Culpability falls on all of us as well! Yes, that’s right – as people we love busyness. In a famous study done almost a decade ago, psychologists determined that 67% of male participants and 25% of female participants would rather give themselves a painful electric shock than sit still with their own thoughts when left alone in a room. Their conclusion was, “Most people seem to prefer to be doing something rather than nothing, even if that something is negative.” And as unbelievable as that seems, it highlights something important – it seems to be hardwired into us to want to do. Therefore, the answer to the question does not seem to be who is to blame, but what is to blame.
Culpability for today’s busyness culture falls on our own human nature. It is this innate part of our nature that then manifests itself as employees work, managers lead, investors analyze results, and customers demand more. By understanding this we can determine how to fix the problem.
Moving Beyond Busyness
Because busyness is what comes naturally to us, companies need to implement the kind of business goals, performance objectives, and organizational structure needed to act as a foundation in the fight against busyness. Additionally, employees need leadership that will coach and mentor them on how to resist our natural bent towards busyness. What does this look like in practical ways?
- Restructuring goals to focus on outputs, instead of inputs.
- Eliminating low-value work for employees like manual data entry and recurring meetings.
- Utilizing technology to automate repeatable work.
- Encouraging employees to take time off.
- Managers leading by example by not working after-hours and on the weekends.
- Pairing up employees with mentors/coaches to offer them support.
- Creating quiet areas in the office to encourage silent thinking (or offering quiet-related benefits to remote employees like “no meeting Fridays” or “quiet lunch hours”).
It might sound shocking to say that silence is a key weapon in the fight against busyness, but do not underestimate the value of silence! Quiet time is important personally and professionally because it allows people to stop, feel, analyze, and listen. When we learn how to slow down and quiet down, we can achieve more in all areas of our lives.
Silence is especially important when it comes to selling. In fact, one of the hardest things for salespeople to learn is how to be okay with silence. But effective selling requires pausing to let a prospective customer drive the conversation so that the salesperson can craft the right approach. Silence encourages prospects to discuss what is important to them, express their concerns, and, most importantly, feel heard. As a result, the salesperson will not only have the information needed to pitch to that specific customer, but also the trust needed to complete the sale.
If your organization is ready to move past busyness to achieve more, please reach out to me. Every day I help organizations generate better prospects and close on more opportunities to build profitable and sustainable revenue streams. I am passionate about customizing revenue strategies for unique business needs to facilitate growth. Find out how I can help your organization to take the next step.