We hold this truth to be self-evident: that charities will continually need to do more with less. Indeed, it’s not just charities; one of the biggest challenges facing the UK is how we improve productivity across all the sectors of our economy, but it’s probably fair to say that it’s in the third sector where the pressure is most acute. So how do we increase the productivity of an organisation? Well, it starts with you and me.
Most of us work far too many hours because we believe that’s what we need to do to fulfil our roles and achieve our goals. But it’s rarely the case. Most of us can be far more productive, and achieve those things in far less time… If we really want to. But it requires change; in action and in outlook.
Improving personal productivity, as with organisational productivity, is about two things: choosing the right things to do, and doing them as quickly and efficiently as possible – in that order of priority. Even doing the right things badly is more productive than doing the wrong things well.
The first step is to decide which are the right things for you to do, to achieve what you want to achieve; assuming you’re clear on what that is. To be productive, your goals need to be near-term and specific; your annual targets or your organisational vision are way too far off. Are you clear on your critical goals for the next 30 days? If not, take the time to break down that vision into short-term milestones and prioritise the chunks of work that need to happen.
And here’s the first key to productivity: decide which of those chunks of work only you can do, and which of them others could do for you. There are lots of people inside and outside of your organisation who can do things better, faster and cheaper than you. It might feel like you’re “looking after the pennies” if you do it yourself, but you’re not – it’s an inefficient use of an expensive resource. The right things for you to do are those things only you can do, or that you can do better, faster or cheaper than anyone else.
I’ll say that again, because it’s as true for an organisation as it is for an individual. You should only be doing things that you can do better, faster or cheaper than anyone else out there. If you want to be more productive, pass out all the work that others can do just as well. Brief it with clarity, check in on delivery, but get it out of your in-tray as quickly as you can.
The second step is to deliver those “right things” more quickly and efficiently, which is why the second key to productivity is to ruthlessly focus on them. With personal productivity for instance, all the research shows that the amount of time we waste flicking between tasks, especially emails, is staggering. Ask yourself every Monday, if you only achieved three things this week, what do they need to be? Box out time for the critical things in your calendar, set times aside purely for email, and wean yourself off the compulsion to self-distract. It’s good to have an open-door policy, but it’s essential to have some closed-door time as well, not just on the train home.
It might seem strange that I’m talking time-management in an article about organisational productivity, but here’s why. One of the biggest shifts in the last 20 years has been the increasing systemisation and automation of work – most of those productivity gains have already been had. The majority of people in this country, probably in your organisation, are now engaged in intellectual, not physical work. That means the majority of future gains in productivity will come from behaviour, not process changes – the productivity of an organisation is increasingly a function of its collective human behaviour, for which you are a role model.
Which is why the third key is this: improving your organisation’s productivity starts with improving your own. Adopt these techniques and adapt them to suit you; master and model them and coach them to your team.
If you’re not prepared to lead, how can you expect them to follow?