See if you can spot this one.”
Those are the words spoken at the beginning of Eric Clapton’s unplugged version of his classic song Layla. The song was originally performed by Eric when he was with Derek and the Dominos. Eric’s nickname is “Slow Hand”, which is an oxymoron. He is one of the great guitar players of all time. The original version is upbeat with really amazing guitar lines throughout. What I love most about the unplugged version of the song is how he slowed it down and changed the rhythm so much you wonder if it is even the same song.
This paradox in music hit home with me as I considered the changes in my role at work over the past several months. Prior to the change, I was responsible for a line of business within our organization. I had a plan, a forecast, a P&L, a team and a bunch of opportunities to pursue that all felt time sensitive. Sure there were always opportunities for improvement, new ideas, process work, etc. on my mind, but the focus was on “get stuff done”. It was easy to validate my contribution to the organization by the number of decisions I made, the number of lines through items on my to-do list, and by looking at my forecast and my P&L to see what we had accomplished. I was Derek and the Dominos.
In my new role, there is very little that happens fast. My role is one of “internal management consultant” where I have no line responsibilities (no forecast, no P&L, etc.) and really nothing in the way of deadlines. Certainly there is a need to produce results, but that is also one of the challenges in the work as results are not immediate. I look at where we might change the way we do things or new things we might do to make our business better. It can feel really laid back, academic, more about getting things right than getting things done. Kind of like Eric Clapton Unplugged.
In Stephen Covey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, he talks about the four quadrants of time management. What I’ve described above is a shift in my working patterns from a predominantly Q1 style to one that is mostly Q2. I’ve found it to be somewhat uncomfortable for a couple of reasons.
First is that I’m having to learn how to value my own work in different ways. What I’ve learned today? Have I collaborated well? Have I built consensus around new ideas? Have I discovered anything new today? Can I ascribe business value to theory?
Second, operating at a different pace than the rest of the organization makes it more challenging to engage. Pardon the introduction of a competing metaphor, but it can feel like trying to enter a full-speed freeway from a stop sign instead of a merge lane. In our fast-paced, get things done world, people are nervous about slowing down for a period that makes them feel like they are getting behind. It’s quite interesting that just the fact that I’m doing Q2 work in our Q1 world has people asking questions that sound a lot like “shouldn’t you be taking care of something a bit more urgent?”
Try an experiment. As you meet and greet people asking the question “How are things?” notice what percentage of the time people answer “I’m busy!”. Watch your own responses as well, and set yourself a challenge to substitute something else, anything else, for the response “Busy!” Busy has become a badge of honor.
What are the implications of this?
- Busy breeds busy. Q1 is about doing tasks that are both urgent and important. These do need to be done. But spending too much time being busy is a death spiral of crisis management. The only way to break the cycle is to find a way to spend time on important things before they become a crisis. Fix the root of the problem, not the symptoms of the problem.
- Watch how we measure ourselves. If we pride ourselves on full calendars, emails handled, phone calls taken and placed and other activity based measures we’re missing an opportunity. That is the opportunity to work “on the business” instead of “in the business”. Let’s assume our competitors are good at working “in their business” as well. Our ability to differentiate isn’t going to come from our ability to outwork them (although it might help for a while). It is going to come from our ability to innovate, form better relationships, find cost efficiency, etc. We have to “out-think” them.
- Creating A Two Speed Culture. My friend and coach Kerry Parsons once remarked to me that high achievers fear slowing down for corners or stop signs simply because they have to slow down. What they don’t think about is that once they’ve rounded the corner there is nothing stopping them from going fast again. The purpose of slowing down for the corner is to change directions. How might leaders be more cognizant of this? First to give themselves permission to slow down for periods to work “on the business”, but more importantly that we think of our team members in this regard and build objectives requiring slower Q2 time into everyone’s plan.
So how might we channel our inner Eric Clapton and unplug once in a while? what benefits might we get out of it personally? How might it help us actually be more effective at work simply by doing things smarter? What experience to you have with taking this “two-speed” approach?