When “work smarter” is a dumb idea

Have you been here? …
The boss: “Hey everyone, we’re excited to announce Project Phoenix! It will revolutionize the way we serve our customers. We are aiming to launch in six months, and yes it will be a tough push, but I know we can do it!”
The team: “Sounds great! Who will backfill us while we work on this? What resources will we have?”
The boss: “Just work it in with your current tasks. I can help reprioritize as needed.”
The team: “Will any of our tasks be removed?”
The boss: “Well no…that stuff needs to be completed, too. But hey, if we WORK SMARTER I’m sure we will get it all done with no problem!”
Gee, I wonder what will happen in this scenario? Quality suffers. People get angry. The word “burnout” surfaces and people start checking out the job boards. And yet we see this approach repeated again and again.
We can’t work smarter without time to think. We need new inputs; Time to learn new skills and generate new ideas. These require space to happen.
There is a reason why change pros commonly point to a performance curve that shows a drop in performance during a change. People need time to adjust. They make mistakes while learning.
Asking people who are maxed out with existing tasks to take on more by working smarter is a slap in the face unless leaders do something to free up capacity:

  • Removing or deferring work
  • Adding resources like temps
  • Delegating tasks to other individuals or departments
  • Facilitating sessions to review and innovate existing work practices

Just saying “work smarter” is the dumbest thing you can do if you aren’t prepared to make space for change. It’s a question of capacity. Creating capacity is the smartest thing you can do for a team in transit.

Thoughtfully yours,
Jeff Skipper