Choosing what not to do

Starting a new year is the most popular time to create and install plans. This is true within our personal lives and within our businesses. In business, we spend hours creating plans for how to meet financial and operational goals for the year. Then we spend more time rolling out these plans to employees so that everyone is aligned and can work together towards the stated goals. It’s business version of the new year resolutions list.

But then unplanned things happen
As well intentioned plans go, there is always the unexpected to disrupt them. Customers leave, new customers start, the government imposes new laws/regulations, certification requirements change, equipment fails, customers request new services etc. These are the operational needs of the business and can make employees choose between operations and the business plan. The “to-do” list becomes so big that employees must make choices about what to do and what not to do.

Choosing what not to do is easy to say but hard to do
I’ve heard managers say before that we just need to be smart about what tasks we choose to work. We can’t do them all, so we have to work smarter. The idea is that we leave unimportant tasks left undone. This makes sense to a point, yet nobody likes to say “no” to a customer. So we often find ourselves in a game of servicing the request of the biggest customer or the one who threatens to leave. Employees have to make real decisions about how to divide their time between the operational aspects of the business and the plan of new work.

A sensible plan
In the annual plan, we must recognize that a percentage of the time that employees spend on the job is for operational activities. That means servicing customers, keeping equipment up-to-date, and responding to the unplanned events. Then make sure the portfolio/program managers don’t schedule the employees at 100% capacity to do new work. This doesn’t completely remove the need to make choices about what we do and don’t do. But it gives employees some flexibility to make choices about unplanned matters.

Choose not to fill all your time with planned activities
Leave time for the unexpected. Leave time for creativity. Leave time for learning. If our people are our most important asset then we must let our people do their jobs to run our business. That means servicing customers and choosing what’s right. There will still be times when we choose not do to a task. But we’ll be choosing to do this as a matter of a thoughtful decision rather than a time constraint imposed by over scheduling.