In today’s modern organization, there’s no question managers are overburdened, overworked and every bit worn-out. That’s not to say people in decision making positions shouldn’t expect to be stretched in every direction, but in many businesses, value added work takes a back seat. Why is there so much emphasis on work with less than optimal return for the organization? Here are three compelling reasons why managers have a tendency to focus on non-value added work.
1. They Lack Capabilities
We’ve all heard of The Peter Principle. It’s not uncommon for managers to be promoted above their level of competence and as a result, not have the capability to do value added work at that level. For example, a promotion from the manufacturing line to a front line manager requires higher order problem-solving skills. Without these capabilities, a promoted manager will focus on the floor and getting work done at that level. This is work they know how to do, and they excel at it. Since they don’t have the capability to do the value-added managerial work, they won’t be successful at it, so they don’t do it. As a consequence, over time, the overall quality of the whole unit suffers.
The higher up in an organization you go, the harder it is to differentiate the work between positions in different layers.(The proliferation of managerial layers and inconsistent titling doesn’t help, but that will be the content of a future article!). Nevertheless, the exact same principle applies, and with higher levels comes increased complexities and extended horizons within which work needs to be done. In general, the attainment of objectives takes place over a longer period of time and requires a higher level of capability to complete successfully. Managers who have been hired above their level of capability, will not be able to successfully complete the value added work required in that position.
2. They Fail to See the Value
The second reason has less to do with capability and more to do with failing to actually see any value at all. Often, people are promoted who are highly capable, but simply don’t value doing work at the new level. It could be that it’s too challenging or that they’ve been successful in the past doing work on a lower level and as a result, that’s where their comfort level resides. Part of the work of a manager is to work closely with direct reports to ensure there is sufficient clarity around value added work and that they understand what they need to focus on for achieving the most value from longer term, more complex work.
3. They’re Short on Time
For other managers, it’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day, urgent, “must get done” mentality. In many ways, even the most time conscientious managers have specific objectives to meet. Whether it’s as simple as returning phone calls, responding to email, or something else, it’s very easy to get tied up in the daily, urgent but not important tasks and not put in the right amount of time and focus on long-term, value adding work.
Value added work is the work that leads to successful completion of the longer-term strategic goals of the organization. All the way through the organization, from the front line to the mangers, to the CEO, value added work plays a role, linking people and the work they do to the strategic plan. It’s the type of work that stretches our capabilities, builds motivation and inspires. Yes, managers are busy, but for organizations to thrive, it is essential that managers set aside the time necessary to complete the type of work that adds real value – beyond a phone call or clearing email.