How Do You Spend Your Work Time?

by Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

How Do You Spend Work Time and Money to Make Money?

My definition of work is simple – people spend work time and money to make money. That definition does not match the official definition of work that we are taught as fledgling Industrial Engineers (mass moved over a distance). It might make more than a few physicists cringe. Nonetheless, this definition represents what I feel work is really all about. When we show up at work each day, each of us spend work team time, along with money (capital and non-labor expenses) to make money (sales revenue).

It is for this reason that I feel job design – organizational ergonomics from a macro perspective – is one of the most critical processes in an organization. How well we define the job design of each position in a given company ranges drastically between organizations. As creatures of habit, we spend our work time in consistent, habitual ways. We often spend time on things that are different than what our job description says. These patterns of behavior become our ‘real’ job designs, whether they match our job descriptions or not.

I believe job descriptions are one of the key tools that help make each employee’s (person’s) job design more explicit. This is especially true if the job description defines how to spend time from a percentage of total job time for each key job function. In an integrated company, there is strong correlation between each job description and the company’s activity-based costing model. I do not feel that even job descriptions of this nature are complete. Something still seems to be missing.

How Do We Spend Work Time for Engagement?

My learnings from more than twenty years as a Baldrige Performance Excellence Award Examiner have led me to a key conclusion. We really only need to define two key dimensions for each position in a given organization. The first dimension represents the degree an employee would spend their work time alone, versus with other people. The second continuum reflects the amount of work time spent on projects versus process.

After we define these four percentages for each person’s job, we can then aggregate those values across a work group, site, or corporation. The summary percentages help define both the current state of business orientation, and possible future states. Unfortunately, few organizations view job design from these two perspectives. This unfortunate, for their inclusion and review in our planning efforts alone can have a significant performance impact.

How Should You Spend Your Work Time?

What should the ratio between the time one spends working alone and the time they spend with others be for a given job? Should a manager work alone more of the time than a supervisor? What key distinctions exist between these roles from a strategic perspective? To what degree should we try to shift our job designs over time? Do your leaders spend enough time working with other people in your company?

DISCOVER MORE: Frequently Asked Team Engagement Questions

In high performing organizations, people work with others (engage) more than they work alone. This does not mean that the goal is to drive the ‘work with others’ time percentage to near 100%. I think we can define an optimum mix that exists. My theoretical projection would fall between 75 to 80 percent. How much of your time do you spend working alone? To what degree would it impact performance in your company if more people spent a greater percentage of their time interacting with other people in a value added manner, instead of sitting in the office all day?

Measure How You Spend Work Time for Improvement

Hopefully those questions lead you to ask “Well, it would depend on what I was doing when I was with those other people.” Your response might also be based on who those people were. This is where the second dimension comes into play – time spent on projects versus time spent on processes. This dimension also tends to generate a greater level of debate and scrutiny than the first does. That said, I could easily show you how the different tasks I performed each day as a Plant Manager fit into one of these two categories.

Meetings, for example, are held to find ways to improve processes or to work on developing projects. Most managers and supervisors spend a lot of time in meetings of one variety or another. In fact, I struggle to come up with a good operational definition for a meeting. I once came across a memo that said that the front desk should be informed of any meeting that takes place and who is in the meeting. The consequences for failing to comply included possible termination. Fortunately, this policy was modified before the poor receptionist was besieged with cell phone calls every time two people, fearful of losing their jobs, bumped into each other in the hallway and started a conversation.

Focus on Making Project – Process Distinctions

Instead, I think it makes sense to look at how we spend our time, be it alone or with others, working on either projects or processes. Clearly define which project or process you are working on whenever you are at work (not counting the official and unofficial ‘breaks’ that are taken). You will achieve greater levels of synergy across the company for your performance improvement efforts. If we have failed to even define which key projects or processes each person is responsible for however, we may find that we are wasting a lot of time. Why are you really going to that meeting? What was the intent of that discussion you just had from an organizational improvement perspective?

EXPLORE MORE: Improving Your Job Design Work System

Learning is part of the personal development process. Spreadsheet analysis relates to both projects and processes. The time we spend thinking about work alone while we sit at our desks might seem difficult to track. Even this effort represents time and money being spent each day in the hopeful pursuit of greater levels of customer satisfaction and greater profits. If you struggle to match your daily efforts to a given project or process, then you may also be on the trail of some possible waste reduction areas. Opportunities for higher levels of performance improvement alignment also exist.

I feel we need to interact with others for a majority (more than half) of our work time. The potential for additional learning and relationship building is too great to compromise. Clearly define your project / process focus, and the degree to which you will focus on one area as opposed to the other. I have been fortunate to witness the power and focus that comes from highly aligned personal efforts, both within and across work groups.

Are Your Jobs Designed to Support High Performance Work?

To what degree do you assess the manner in which you spend your work time each day? What types of adjustments have you made over time to help better meet either your personal needs or those of your company? Do you think it is important for people to spend more work time with each other at work? It really all depends on why you show up each day. What value do you currently receive from the way you spend your personal time? It’s that simple.

Keep improving! – Kevin McManus, Chief Excellence Officer and Systems Guy, Great Systems

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