Archives for posts with tag: Balance

A while back I wrote a post called Are You Working In or Working On? Working in the business is a ‘head down, bottom up’ thing where you’re getting stuck into the everyday tactical stuff. Working on the business is the strategic, directional side of it.

I want to tweak that question slightly in this post, to this: are you working on something, or towards something? This to me is a pretty fundamental question. There’s no right or wrong answer. In fact, I think you have to do both.

Working on something means you’re in the moment, dealing with the present tense, getting it done. Working towards something means you’ve an eye to the future, or to a destination. It’s like the difference between the journey and destination. A means in itself, or a means to an end.

If we don’t know where we’re going with something it’s hard to shape what we’re doing right now. Conversely, if we don’t know where we’re going with something we can learn from the journey. After all, we can’t necessarily see the finish line but we can see the next few hundred yards and that’s enough to keep us on track.

Keeping an eye on what we’re working on sets us up for what we’re working towards. Keeping the other eye on what we’re working towards improves the quality of what we’re working on. Sounds like a pretty virtuous circle to me.

 

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A good while ago I wrote about how strategy and execution are joined at the hip, but that one tends to attract a higher consulting rate than the other. It’s hard to have one without the other. If you have little or no strategy and you execute like mad, you will have some success, but not as much as you might have hoped. If you don’t execute on a good strategy, you don’t really have anything.

I was reminded of this in a recent post by Tom Tunguz on the importance of execution. He referred to an HBR article from over three decades ago about ‘hustle’ – or the concept of getting it done – as the strategy. The central premise was – and still is – that it’s really hard to get competitive advantage, let alone sustain it, so you’re better off executing your plan better than everyone else.

I think a lot of people who work in areas where it’s hard to genuinely differentiate will identify with this approach. You still need to plan well, hire well and measure well, however.

Execution is what separates the men from the boys, the women from the girls, and the growing companies from the struggling companies. It’s about following through, staying the course and closing the loop. You need to just do it, repeatedly.

Strategy and execution, as any good business school will tell you, are the Siamese twins of success. They both need each other, and they both need to keep each other close. One doesn’t work without the other. To strategise without executing is to do nothing, to put nothing into action. To execute without strategy is to ‘spray and pray’.

While the two exercises are equally valuable, in the consulting world they’re not deemed the same. Strategy work is the stuff that happens at the beginning and is of a relatively high value since the inputs directly affect the end result. Execution is following through on the decisions of the strategy, doing the work, putting the work out there and reviewing the results. It is perceived as of a lower value, since executing is basically doing what it’s been told to do by the strategy. A junior officer following the orders of a senior commanding officer if you like. Still a vitally important role.

This perception of value can have a direct effect on day rates and fees. From a consulting perspective, strategy is generally a collaborative exercise, at the customer’s premises and involving a number of people, where skills of facilitation and leadership come in. Execution can often be done on one’s own, from the home office, as it might involve building product, designing messaging, writing content, and putting together the communications assets to help deliver the message and transfer the information.

Indeed, you could almost say that strategy is consulting, whereas execution is about contracting. Strategy happens less often, and commands a higher price, whereas execution lasts for longer and involves more days’ work, but at a lower rate.

And this is the double-edged consulting sword of strategy and execution, as we strive to find the right balance between days in the saddle and fees coming in, between more stimulating work and less stimulating work, and between taking on work directly and delegating it to others.

It seems to me slightly unfair that in the main most of us have to work 5 days for 2 days off. Your working week and your weekend; one is longer and goes slow, the other shorter and goes fast.

It’s an evolution I suppose. In earlier times we were working 7 days a week, because we were hunter-gatherers, or we were slaves. We were literally working to survive. Then comes the industrial revolution and the factory existence and it wasn’t uncommon to be working 6 days and get one solitary day off to recover. A hard life, and one which I’m sure a good number of people still have to endure.

Starting from the other end, if you’re working no days or one day a week, you’re probably independently wealthy, or you can rely on someone else to bring in the bread. If you’re 2 days on and 5 days off, or perhaps 3 days on and 4 days off, then you work part-time in my book. Nothing wrong with that at all. It works great for many millions.

Which brings us back to where I started. 5 days of work and 2 days of play doesn’t feel all that evolved to me. 4 days working, however, and 3 days to yourself – well, that feels a lot more equitable. If your work situation is flexible enough that you can fit your working week into 4 days, or if you can get by on 4 days’ income rather than 5, then that feels a lot fairer to me.

There are 168 hours in a week, of which we’re asleep for about 58, leaving 110 hours left. When you factor in getting ready for work, getting to work, lunch, getting back from work and getting changed, that’s about an 11-hour day, or half of the 110 hours at your disposal if you work 5 days. Half the hours are work-related, so my feeling is the balance of days should be closer to half as well.

We simply need to have the right culture and make the economics work for the 4:3 work:play balance.

Change is hard. We all know that, as individuals and companies.┬áPeople naturally resist any changes that break their routine, especially if they don’t understand or buy into the reasons.

At the same time, you can’t simply draw a line in the sand and expect people to change the way they do things overnight. It’s not in their nature, and it’s not in the interests of their business.

That’s because they have a job to do, objectives to meet, targets to hit, or a business to run. The clock doesn’t stop running while we try something different.

Successfully changing the way people do things is a very delicate balance between small, consumable exposures to the new ways and getting the day job done. That way you can effect a smooth, gradual, and above all measured transition that has a strong chance of being successful. You give people the chance to help shape the new ways and the time to ease into the process. Then the knife edge of change management is cutting for you, not into you.