Work Less, Get More Done

by Douglas R. Rosensteel

In these tight economic times, business experts advise us to improve efficiency, doing more with less in order to improve the bottom line. The problem is, improved efficiency does not always translate into an improved bottom line. In his 1963 Harvard Business Review article Managing for Business Effectiveness, management guru Peter Drucker explains, “There is surely nothing quite so useless as doing with great efficiency that which should not be done at all.”

We waste a lot of time working efficiently on activity that does not contribute to the bottom line. The first duty of the business manager is to strive for the best possible economic results from the resources available. It costs roughly the same to get a $50,000 order as it does to get a $500 order, yet we give both equal importance. A decade or two ago, the Quality community promoted a catchphrase – “Doing the right things right.” That is, doing with great efficiency that which ought to be done. We’re generally pretty good at that. What we’re not so good at is deciding which things we should not be doing at all.

Fortunately, Drucker has given us a principle that can help. He states that, in a social situation, a very small number of events – 10% to 20% at most – account for 90% of all results, whereas the great majority of events account for 10% or less of the results, and only serve to increase costs. This principle is true in the market place. A handful of customers out of many thousands produce the bulk of the orders; a handful of products out of hundreds of items in the line produce the bulk of the volume. It is true in sales. A few salesman out of several hundred produce two-thirds or more of all new business. It is true with personnel problems. Most grievances come from a few employees; most absenteeism can be narrowed down to specific individuals; truly poor (or great) performance is the realm of a few easily identifiable people.

How can we use this principle to improve the bottom line? Instead of placing the best salespeople on the hardest accounts, we could focus their talent on good accounts where they could generate extraordinary sales volumes. Rather than placing the most highly skilled workers on the toughest work, we could concentrate their skills on trouble free jobs that would allow them to produce significantly more than the average worker. Before spending the bulk of our human resources efforts on managing the few problem employees, we could focus on developing the capabilities of the good ones. Imagine how this simple change in the way we think would impact the bottom line.

If you are stressed out, working on too many things and not completing any of them to your satisfaction, consider how this principle also applies to your own job. Ask yourself which ten percent of your activity contributes to ninety percent of your results. Then redesign your job. Put more emphasis on those activities. Of the remaining and result-less 90% of your activities, decide what you should delegate to the proper level, what you must keep for legal or other reasons, and what you can just plain stop doing.

BHD Technologies, Inc. 2015