The 5 vaccines for the Work Overload Pandemic in the era of hybrid work

Work overload is caused by the very people who talk and talk about it.

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For over 18 months, we have been hearing the 5th trendiest word after Covid, Remote, Hybrid, and Agile. Well, this 5th position goes to:

  • overwork
  • overload
  • workload
A real pandemic in the business world.

During these 18 months, we considered ourselves very fortunate to have helped 53 organizations (as of this article’s publication date) to shape their new ways of hybrid work, having previously identified the different strains that produce their day-to-day work overload.

Our sequencing of genomes of work overload in infected companies all over the world has enabled us to develop a phylogenetic tree of their different virus strains and to find effective vaccines with no side effects. Well yes, with a common side effect, immunity: getting healthy hybrid ways of working, forever.

Strain #1

Strategic plans of little more than nice intentions

“We are going to deploy the strategy to action plans.”

What plans can be derived from a strategy with cornerstones that say something like “to be the company of reference at …..”?

The result is nice PowerPoint sheets that we share with each other at cool events. The next day, right these PowerPoint sheets are nothing but one more document consuming space in the Cloud. Action plans add to the long list of frustrations caused by the gap between what is said and what is done.

Luckily, there is an infallible vaccine:

Vaccine #1

OKR

OKRs that translate the intentions of the cottages into commitment, ownership and execution.

What exactly are OKR?

OKR: Objectives and Key Results.
P.S.: Let´s remember to talk some other day about the robotization of humans and the ridiculous protectionism in companies, while robots can always think more and better than humans. 
After introducing this concept, it becomes clear that OKRs enable us to overcome the shallowness and vagueness of strategies in terms of metrics and clear impacts to be achieved. 

Let’s summarize the efficacy of this vaccine with the statement leadership and other teams most frequently tell us after we put strategies into practice:

“We thought we were aligned, but in fact, each of us had interpreted the strategy in a completely different way.”

By the way, a strategy that generally took them between three and six months to define.

Imagine what that means for an organization of 10,000 people; 10,000 different interpretations, 10,000 people with the illusion of moving in the same direction and finally arriving at quite different destinations. There is nothing that generates more work overload than working on things that are going to be of little or no use.

The vaccine is very simple: OKR (be careful with the OKR manuals available on Google, as the remedy will be worse than the disease).

This quote from Gianpaolo Santorsola, Executive Vice President of Adevinta, is all it takes to understand it:

With OKR, we execute the strategy every day and review it every week

Let’s go for the second strain:

Strain #2

Off-sites to create flipcharts of good intentions

How many leadership teams or companies have changed their behavior after an off-site where they filled a dozen flipcharts with good intentions but everyone already knew that tomorrow no one is going to execute them?

We can tell you: zero.

There is another way of working:

Vaccine #2

Manifestos, Dailys and weekly leadership Retrospectives with Radical Candor

There is a failsafe vaccine: define, in 30 minutes, simple manifestos with 3 rules of the game that we are all going to challenge and commit to, review them in 20-minute weeklys by each rule of the game and give feedback with Radical Candor to each other: no ruinous empathy, no obnoxious aggression, no manipulative insincerity. Just radical honesty, valuing one another and mutually challenging each other to improve.

Feedback are data.

Data that enable an organization to learn and be the best

Can we spend the time to give each other feedback and improve? Can we spend the time to make sure we do what we have stated to do in a PowerPoint?

With one off-site or one sterile conference less per year we will have enough time for a whole year of 20-minute weeklys. We know, the truth hurts sometimes.

Let’s continue with the strain of the Agile show of the moment:

Strain#3

Scrum certifications and all its family of friends.

This is one of the saddest and most distressing strains being transmitted: the Scrum, Kanban, SAFE certifications and all their pathetic variant families.

One of the last ridiculous headlines we read while writing this article was something like: “You get the European Accreditation for Scrum and…”.

The reality of this Agile certification show is starting to overtake fiction.

Has anyone ever transformed an organization with certifications? Again, the answer is: No.

Remember the First Certificate? Why, that’s the equivalent. Just change “English” to “Scrum, Agile and so on” and you already have the answer.

Every day we meet professionals, skilled professionals, certified in Scrum, who have learned all the Taylorist and deterministic rituals of Scrum, with a great inability to know what to do the day after certification.

Unfortunately, they invest their time in certifications that fill their heads and their LinkedIn, but that do not allow them to change the status quo of the daily routine or to accompany the people in their organization towards a truly more agile and flexible way of working.

Vaccine #3

Impact, on-the-job

It’s simple: stand by your associates and improve things together. Teach them to have more impact, taking impact by the horns instead of talking about it.

Plan, do, measure, learn and iterate, or keep doing. Iterating has become fashionable, although it’s not always necessary. Sometimes the metrics respond and you need to keep going on and on and on … to leverage the momentum and deepen the impact.

Resilience and perseverance have fallen out of fashion when they are as necessary, if not more so, as iteration. GRIT is the ally of our era.

Company culture is disrupted by Agile Hybrid Working. Don´t miss this step in evolution.

We’re not done yet, let’s turn to the mother strain of posturing:

Strain #4

Conferences and forums because of the great sandwiches

The gap between what is said in HR and business forums and what is actually done in HR departments and in the companies is widening and worrying. Very worrying.

If we hang around from forum to forum all the day, how can the teams and ourselves not be overworked? Less forum and more focus.

Less forum and more ppl (not ppt). Let’s get into ppl:

Vaccine #4

Pollination and Pair Learning

The best way to improve is to learn from the best practices of others. From others who can stand by your side and help you the next day.

For this purpose, the pollination sessions in which different groups explain the best way they have achieved a result are as effective as they are brilliant.

A prerequisite is that the teams, who were sharing in the meeting, put their knowledge at the service of others when they leave these sessions. How? With Pair Learning: people who learn from others by having an impact together. A formula as simple as it is effective. While robots learn from each other at exponential speed, we humans cannot allow ourselves the luxury of not multiplying our intelligence.

No time for pollination? One forum less per year buys us six months of pollination, improvement and impact on the organization. No excuses.
"ActioGlobal has been very successful in introducing a methodology that allows us to order, align and measure the progress of business in an organization as complex as ours with nearly 100 multidisciplinary teams"

David Manchón Mauri
General Manager Sales of Adevinta

This is especially difficult in an organization that is not only a matrix, but at least comprises four different businesses in the same organization. In this environment, managing a cross-sectional area like the one I manage, which has dependencies with many vertical areas, raised significant issues. On the one hand, the product teams often forgot to incorporate the commercial input and, on the other hand, the commercial teams had dependencies on other teams in the company and it was difficult for them to get considered within the tasks to be developed by the other teams. Working in the PEAK framework, planning quarterly based on the fulfilment of some objectives and KRs involving previous work on communication between teams to definitely reach handshakes. It is also indispensible since the the multidisciplinary teams have to incorporate sales people if the fulfilment of KRs requires it. Applying this methodology allowed to solve the above mentioned problems to a considerable extent.

"No less essential has been the role of this methodology during such a special time as the pandemic when teams have been working from home. I believe PEAK has been the key that has allowed the machinery to keep going"

Let’s finish big, with the Pac-Man star of our times, the greatest Time Gobbler:

Strain #5

Powerpoints to report the past

This is the ultimate lethal virus. In our most recent diagnostics, we have come across leaders and people in their teams who spend more than 35% of their time on PowerPoints. Powerpoints that are not to define what they are going to do in the future but to report what they have already done in the past.

Ergo,

14 hours per day, 728 hours a year

lost while explaining what we did and can't change.

And who takes care of what needs to be done? We would hope that it is not the people who are overloaded in their daily work. We would hope so, but, unfortunately, it is exactly them.

Let’s get the antidote:

Vaccine #5

Engaging with the future

Plan and execute with the future in mind.

Imagine you have three months more per year than your competitors to beat them with plans focused on what is wildly important. Imagine you have 91 days more per year than the others to carry out an outstanding execution at the sales points or in delivering service or for the product.

Well, it is actually very simple to make it come true. You have to replace every minute wasted on a PowerPoint with time dedicated to focus on and execute the future, with OKR defined as impact, not as activity and with a golden rule: in meetings we don’t talk about the past, we use the lessons learned from it to synchronize towards the future and execute by measuring.

Finally, we share with you some basic principles that we have applied to protect organizations against future strains and variants of overwork:
8
principles to end the overload

1.

A meeting is only necessary when there is a clear result to be worked out

for example, making a decision on various well-defined scenarios based on data.

2.

People only attend meetings when they own a clear responsibility

before, during and after these meetings.

3.

In the meetings, facts and data are discussed

with openness and radical honesty, avoiding politicking.

4.

Meetings are meant to make decisions that change the future,

not to report on the past.

5.

Leaders do not attend meetings to be informed of the work done

but to understand how confident people/teams are to achieve the objectives and to unblock them on those points that are beyond their reach.

6.

Powerpoint is not needed for making decisions

but, if used however, it should be as concise as possible, a one-pager with figures that help us make decisions.

7.

The standard meeting time should be 15 minutes,

not one full hour.

8.

Internal communication should be transparent

through open channels, avoiding emails to closed groups as far as possible.

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