Many things drive success in the workplace.
The time that we can spend on reading online about efficiency tricks and workplace hacks is sheer limitless.
But there is one thing that trumps them all.
This concept has, by far, the most substantial impact on your performance and the performance of your team.
It is simple yet impactful.
And because of its simplicity, it sometimes is difficult to put into practice.
I have seen many experienced professionals and executives struggle with it.
Often with horrifically detrimental outcomes.
Here it is:
Before we start to do things RIGHT - we have to make sure we do the right THINGS.
Quite simple - as I promised.
And it's logical as well if you consider the following example:
Steve's supervisor asked him to prepare slides for a presentation.
Since he is motivated to deliver a quality result, he quickly starts to create a compelling storyline for the presentation.
For each topic, he creates a few slides with the most relevant aspects, a total of 27 slides, including the cover page.
Then, he spends several hours to format the slides, adjust the font sizes, margins, and image placeholders.
In the end, he finally adds appealing pictures and icons before he sends it to his supervisor for review.
A short while later, Steve receives an email from the supervisor.
And the feedback is - horrible.
Steve is devastated since he did everything by the book.
Now, what did Steve's supervisor miss in Steve's presentation?
Steve missed a few essential topics in his draft that are missing.
Now he has to add 17 more slides. They also need good polishing and visuals.
But here comes the kicker: The time slot for the presentation has a fixed length.
That is why he has to make time to present the new slides. To do that, he has to delete existing slides from his deck, so the overall duration remains the same.
Hence he has to delete about 17 slides that he tediously drafted, polished, and reviewed.
Seeing the fruits of Steve's work going to waste is painful for him.
So how could he avoid discouraging experiences like these?
Well, Steve learned something from the situation.
Next time, he will make sure he gets feedback for his storyline first.
If something is missing, the supervisor will tell him right away.
So Steve should have touched base with his supervisor to see if he had all the relevant points covered; that means doing the right THINGS. When he had the storyline finalized, he then could have invested time and effort in formatting and beautifying the slides, which means doing things RIGHT.
In other words, "doing things right" is often called "efficiency." And there is an endless number of efficiency hacks out there.
But the more relevant aspect is "effectiveness," which is another fancy way of saying "doing the right things."
Imagine you sit in a car. Being efficient is driving as fast as possible, given the traffic and road conditions. Being "effective" is setting a destination. Which one is more important, speed or destination?
It is good to drive fast in the right direction. But if I had to pick one, I'd rather drive at modest speed in the right direction than frantically driving in the wrong one.
That is why effectivity is king. Direction trumps speed every day of the week.
Mistaking efficiency for effectiveness doesn't only happen to new joiners on the task level. It can also occur among senior executives.
Think about Kodak. At a time, Kodak dominated the photography market. They focussed so intensely on optimizing analog photography that they missed the looming change towards digital. In January 2012, they had to file for bankruptcy.
It is difficult to be diligent with details while also maintaining a good overview. When you have been in deep work for a while, take a step back and see if you still go in the right direction. Often, an outside perspective helps.
You can be smart and learn from both Kodak and Steve. Therefore, it is crucial to change perspective from time to time. Take Regularly detach from your current task and think:
Am I moving in the right direction?
Who can help me with an outside perspective?
Ask a co-worker to check your drafts or challenge your reasoning. Doing so allows you to get a second opinion and often avoids Kodak-like situations where you miss significant external developments.
Consider approaching senior colleagues. Most experienced colleagues love to share their knowledge with energetic new joiners.
Also, think about talking to your supervisors to get early feedback to mitigate risks. That helps you prevent situations like Steve's. Most supervisors will appreciate it if you keep them in the loop and the risk mitigation benefits. If they don't and things go south, they bear the responsibility as they decided not to help you with quick feedback.
Now it's time for today's challenge.
Think about your current task. How can you make sure that you go in the right direction?
Talk to a more experienced colleague. If he or she has a different role than you, he or she may not understand every detail. You can still explain the options and uncertainties you have as they tend to repeat themselves in other roles.