Is it possible to be overworked and underutilized?
A neat, and short, article written for an event at the Banff Center as part of a leadership development course caught our eye this week. The salient point was that most employees today feel simultaneously overworked and underutilized. That’s a neat trick that too many organizations seem quite good at pulling off. Why?
Management vs Leadership
You can manage people all day and never lead them anywhere. You and your team get a bunch of stuff done, but those accomplishments may have no productive connection to your organization’s mission. You can spend eight hours responding to corporate e-mails, for instance, and not get a single task done that pushes a project forward.
This is where true leaders find out what their employees spend all their time on, and re-focus their employees’ energy away from busy work and towards work that sustains progress on meeting team goals.
- The leader has to give followers permission to ignore busy work and focus on productive tasks, and take the flak for them when other people feel neglected or disrespected by your employees.
- It is your job to manage your colleagues’ expectations about how responsive your team can be to tasks and requests that do not support your team’s core mission.
- To minimize the friction this may cause with other groups, you must work with their leaders to forecast what support other work groups do need from your group, and plan time and resources in advance to meet those collaborative needs.
To get all this done, you have to delegate day-to-day responsibilities to your team-members so that you can focus on managing these “external relations” more effectively. You must trust them to get stuff done while you work on their behalf around the organization!
As we have said countless times, every organization hires talented people full of energy and ready to contribute at a high level. You as a leader must keep that energetic contribution going by fostering employee engagement. One great way to do that is to work on their behalf to protect them from an avalanche of tangential work that keeps their talents and contributions underutilized.
How underutilized are you at work? What action have you taken with your boss to rectify that situation? What has worked, and what hasn’t?