Your Business Coach: Create 'performance slack' to help efficiency

J. Bob Jones: Slack in a schedule helps a project team minimize the impact of tasks or activities lasting longer than planned. It is a well-established and accepted approach to managing scheduling risk.
BY J. BOB JONES Published: August 26, 2012
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Especially in the past decade, it seems that U.S. workers have taken and simplified the motto “do more with less” to simply “do more.” When you couple technological advances with hard economic times, an organization can create an environment in which the workforce is asked or is driven to an unhealthy and unsustainable work-life balance. When this occurs, the only thing “less” in the equation is sleep, family, health, and at some point quality and/or productivity. My recommendation is to create “performance slack.”

Let me equate performance slack to a term most are familiar with: “slack in a project schedule.” Slack in a schedule helps a project team minimize the impact of tasks or activities lasting longer than planned. It is a well-established and accepted approach to managing scheduling risk. It is no different from having a certain amount of dollars set aside as contingency funds to guard against budget overruns. Like scheduling and budgeting slack, we create performance slack when we create standards and conditions that allow people the latitude to not perform at 100 percent.

Here are three suggestions for creating performance slack.

1. Create “white space.” One of my first mentors told me that he was failing me if he did not give me time to think. I initially looked puzzled and then he explained that he owed me the time to think beyond the task at hand and to explore new ways of viewing a situation, to research emerging trends, and/or to develop new approaches. So my first bit of advice is to provide the time and establish the expectation that staff can think and innovate.

2. “There is effectiveness in inefficiency.” Though I do believe that we need to use our time wisely, I think the more important aspect of our work is to produce the desired output and outcome. And sometimes being inefficient, placing learning or discovery before speed/duration can in the long term make the task or project more effective.

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