In my last blog, I opened a conversation about the possibility – and the value – of raising acceptable working standards in an organisation. If you liked the sound of that – or simply can no longer bear the waste you currently see in your place of work – this blog takes the discussion further. If you wanted to cut that waste, how would you best go about it?

Firstly, if you are serious about doing this, you’ll want to recognise that you are setting out on a journey. Like GTD® itself, this will not be a light-switch transformation, but one that will necessitate focus and attention over time. And, like in any journey – where there will be highs and lows and moments of being lost – you need two pieces of information to navigate and stay motivated:

  • Where am I?
  • Where am I trying to get to?

Unlike a geographical journey, where – these days – you can simply pick up your phone and punch in an address, there will be a bit more work to get answers about working standards in your organisation.

On this journey, a great place to start on changing your working standards would be to work out what they currently are. That we don’t know this already is a big part of the problem. That lack of clarity is part of how the standards are allowed to remain so low.

But before we know how to get clear on the standards, it will be helpful to have a look at ‘why?’. Why would you go to the trouble of doing this work; of uncovering the habits, practices and patterns for how work is currently done in the organisation?

Three reasons:

1. To make clear how current working standards are impacting individuals and team performance;
2. So people in the organisation can begin to see the patterns and costs for themselves (awareness of our own working patterns is a critical first step in being more open to changing them); and
3. Wherever possible, identify the individuals, teams and structures where higher standards are already in place so we can acknowledge and build on that, to make GTD less of an ‘outside job’.

The short version of that? Until the pain of continuing with the waste is greater than the pain of making a change, there will be no change.

Most change efforts fail not because they are wrong, or even harder than what they seek to replace. They are often simply seen as too hard or too difficult, absent from the context of what the current costs are. Taking the time to do this initial measuring up front is to make clear the costs of continuing to do things in the old way. Unbearably clear.

If we can agree that the measurement needs doing, how would you get it done?

I’d suggest some combination of the following:

  • A survey of an small but representative proportion of the organisation about current working standards, costs and benefits
  • Examining recent/relevant employee engagement surveys for areas impacted by the current standards
  • Interviews with key individuals throughout the organisation to deepen insight into the survey results
  • Focus groups to explore how the working standards are perceived
  • Observation of a top-team meeting

The survey would provide a good insight into the working standards across the organisation and would be done first. Employee engagement surveys provide a link to a well-known dashboard, and the interviews and focus groups allow you to drill down into this to discover the nuances in different parts of the organisation – where there might be best practice, and where damaging bottlenecks have developed. The top team observation will allow you to uncover more about how they are working, their roles and accountabilities, and how they are managing their own effectiveness.

You’ll definitely want some measurements you can track over time, so you’ll know if you are winning the game or not. If you are betting some organisational cash that you can get dramatically higher team productivity with less pain and stress, you’ll want to be able to justify your investment when the inevitable end-of-year question about resource allocation comes. Being able to point to positive changes in relevant metrics will go a long way to giving you a career enhancing response.

In an ideal world, these measurements are already available if not yet necessarily being actively tracked. The less new effort involved, the more likely that it will actually happen. It’s already been mentioned, but a fresh look at the employee engagement survey will probably yield trackable measures of satisfaction/dissatisfaction/stress/overwork.

  • Some other things you might want to consider measuring:
  • Number of e-mails in inboxes
  • Number of unread e-mails in inboxes
  • Number of team meetings in organisation
  • Percentage of time spent in meetings on average
  • Sick days due to stress
  • Long term sick leave
  • Staff turnover

Those would be a start. I’m sure you can already think of several more that would be relevant in your team or organisation.

Finally, in this initial stage of clarifying the current state of play, I’d suggest doing an organisational inventory at the following levels:

Horizon two: Areas of Focus – do we know who has the ball? Do they know it?
Horizon three: Goals – are we clear on what are we trying to get done in the next year or two, as a team?
Horizon four: Vision – do we have one? Does anyone know about it? Are we making decisions day-in, day-out based on trying to get there?
Horizon five: Purpose & Principles – have these been clarified? Are we reviewing them regularly band discussing how we are doing with regard to our aspirations?

No need for an offsite, just get honest about how much clarity already exists in the organisation at those higher levels.

If you’ve done all of the above, you’ll have new insight into how work is – or is not – getting done in your organisation. In this phase, you want to get the lay of the land and see what are the strengths and weaknesses the team has in its working standards.

You are now ready to set some goals. More on that in a few weeks.


In this series:

Blog 1: An approach to working standards transformation

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