Companies are under increasing pressure to introduce a range of strategic initiatives. However, today's fierce talent war is creating a tough backdrop for building the additional workforce necessary to deliver significant change.
As a result, management is forced to do more with less, and the rate of successful implementation is low. In this environment, projects are at risk of falling behind, losing momentum, or being marred by poor execution. A big problem we've identified is this: Less than a third of an employee's time on the clock is spent on core work.
As project quality and implementation erode, an understandable reaction is to aim to improve corporate culture and change management. However, before diving into long-term programs, company leadership needs to consider what can be done immediately with existing resources to improve the likelihood of success.
Among the most effective tools for near-term change is deselection. Leadership needs to clearly prioritize strategic objectives and be willing to reduce the number of active projects. The goal is to increase the time available to implement projects.
Analyze how employees actually spend their time
Talent is becoming an increasingly precious resource in our economy. Not only is it scarce, but it's also expensive as widespread inflation is driving up people costs.
Now, more than ever, management needs to know what employees are doing with their time. How does the workforce spend its day? How many projects are people being asked to devote hours to? Without answering these questions, companies will continue to be inefficient and relatively unproductive – and this will remain the case even if incremental resources are added.
Where does the process of deselection begin? It starts with understanding the data.
Hours spent on activities in a 10-hour day (multiple client samples)
AlixPartners analyzed how employees tend to spend their time, relying on data from several companies. A staggering statistic is that an average of about 30% of compensated time is spent on core work. Far more time is spent in meetings, emails, and miscellaneous tasks.
% of time spent everyday (average of client samples)
Reduced time spent on meetings, emails & chat messages, and miscellaneous work to make additional time available for core work
Every company's performance will vary, but it's fair to say most management teams need to figure out how to turn this equation upside down. Core work needs to represent a bulk of the workday.
One way to do that is to analyze a way to prune the number of projects being tackled by personnel so that hours spent can be better deployed. The best projects to target for deselection are low impact and high effort.
Hours spent on projects by personnel
Hours spent on projects by personnel
Eliminated "Project Three" since it was a low impact/high effort project. Re-balanced hours among resources
A game plan for deselection
Anyone familiar with trying to streamline operations and optimize efforts understands this is hard work. It's easier to lay out longer-term solutions than immediately attack the problem. AlixPartners has created a roadmap for better performance.
Reduce the number of active projects
The process begins with categorizing all projects and activities – including those hidden from view – and formally deselect based on established criteria. Then move to align resources on the key initiatives while removing them from the deselected projects; misaligned activities must be officially stopped or at least delayed.
This is not haphazard work. Non-aligned work is often well underway, or in-flight, so a detailed plan to kill or transition these activities is needed, including a clear end date.
Increase the time available to implement remaining projects
In addition to addressing unnecessary projects, significant energy must be devoted to freeing up hours in the day for core work. One way is to make meetings more efficient by canceling some, reducing attendees to others, shortening the time, decreasing meeting frequency, or consolidating multiple meetings. Among the greatest productivity-killers is the "optional" meeting attendee invite – this should be canceled.
The goal here is to better manage multi-tasking. This could include implementing a "good meeting hygiene" protocol or replacing meetings with blogs or other communications that can be read or listened to at optimal times. Employees will likely welcome the changes as they are eager to be more productive, and often suffer from meeting overload and "Zoom fatigue."
Be willing to get extremely tactical in order to improve outcomes:
- Track and manage the time spent in remaining meetings
- Reduce the time required for recurring activities
- Select business process improvement initiatives
- Automate to enhance or replace manual work
- Reduce documentation, unnecessary reporting, and admin work
Match implementation resources to needs
Upon agreeing on implementation capacity, balance the work among critical resources. Delegate to increase capacity and build skills everywhere in the organization, continue to work at the optimal level, and vigilantly reduce work content.
Time is ticking
It's safe to say that the forces shaping today's workforce – including flexible or hybrid work schedules, virtual meetings, pressure on hiring, and inflation – are here to stay. Investors, meanwhile, won't lower expectations – even in this new environment.
Adopting a rigorous deselection strategy can help better utilize resources and manage external expectations, leading to a more resilient business plan.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.