I recently read an interesting article in the New York Times entitled In Silicon Valley, 9-5 Is for Losers. The gist of the article is that the high-tech culture in Silicon Valley values extreme work hours in order to potentially make a lot of money over all other values. As the article points out, even though there is plenty of evidence that “workaholism” isn’t either ultimately truly productive and certainly can be destructive for people, high tech culture now demands that people become workaholics to be accepted as sufficiently committed to an organization’s success.
While this article is focused specifically on Silicon Valley, our team at Cerebyte sees this attitude in most other industries as well. Working harder is valued at the expense of all other values, even the value to work smarter. In fact, we are just getting involved with a program with one of our new clients that illustrates this problem. This program is designed to respond to problems created by a corporate IT group being unresponsive to its customers (I know you are shocked that an IT group would be perceived as unresponsive).
This organization, to its credit, recognized that IT had a real problem and brought Cerebyte in to change the IT culture to make it more customer-centric, which is a great idea and well within Cerebyte’s capabilities. Again, thinking ahead, the team driving this cultural change effort went to two of their IT department’s primary internal customers – a marketing group and a customer service group – and asked them to participate in the program to ensure that everyone aligned on mutually beneficial collaboration.
Guess what happened?
These two other groups said that they were too busy to collaborate with IT.
Of course, these two groups were among the most vociferous critics of IT, but when it came to actually trying to improve the situation, they were “too busy.” This is a trend we see all of the time and that was alluded to in the article. Unfortunately, working harder is the norm, NOT working smarter.
The paradox of working smarter – shown clearly in the above example – is that an organization must stop working harder, at least for a brief period of time, to reflect on what it is doing and try to develop ways to do it better. In our programs, we stress that time itself is used differently when you are trying to get better.
First, the use of time in the newly defined role changes. For example, in the IT group above, the group will end up spending less time writing software and more time understanding the needs of the business unit – which ultimately always produces greater time efficiency and substantially increased value to the organization.
Second, working smarter not just harder becomes a norm. In our programs, people adjust the learning tasks to make them smarter, do the learning task, journal about what they learned and discuss what they learned with their colleagues.
We guide them to develop a habit of taking the time to work smarter, not just harder and, not surprisingly, working smarter means that they accomplish more with less time and effort. This process for working smarter, not just harder, becomes so great that many of the learning groups continue to meet indefinitely after the formal program is done. And, working smarter feels much better that just trying to work harder.
Can you work harder? Don’t you think it is time to take the time to work smarter?