It’s become a cliché: work smarter rather harder. But how many of us still manage to fall into the busy = productive trap? How often do we reply “busy” in answer to those who ask us how we are doing? It's easy to check off a day as productive when it consists of running around sun up to sun down, but that doesn't necessarily mean anything valuable was accomplished. If you aren't putting energy into tying that work to outcomes, you may not be accomplishing much.
The Fallacy of Busy
It's natural to associate being busy with being productive. Everyone does it. When you're busy, you're externally and obviously active. No one questions your work ethic as you dash from project to project, tossing out emails at 2 a.m. and making rapid fire decisions. But you can be busy 16 hours a day and still not move business objectives forward. Too often, "being busy" can become a goal or worse: a measure of performance.
Many IT environments are set up in a way that deter real productivity, instead focusing on metrics and measures that only give the illusion of being productive. Showing you're busy proves you're a hard worker, which in turn garners praise and even promotion. And as we move up the chain of command, we never really learn how to take time out of the day to strategize.
Fostering an Environment of Innovation
Creating an environment of innovation in IT has to come from the top. Innovation comes from a place of thinking, dreaming, and tinkering– not doing busy work. How many supervisors put measures in place to grade who is the "busiest?" Managers don't need to actually check on or understand the progress of a project; they can simply look to predetermined metrics that claim to indicate under performance.
In today’s environment, a CIO must place a premium on creating and innovating. Your job in an IT leadership role is to support your company and lead them to achieve more through technology advances and efficiencies. Setting aside time for innovation and contemplation is of vital importance for a business that wants to continue to compete in a market. By carving out time and allowing your team to be actively innovative, you eliminate the need to look busy and foster an environment that actually produces results.
Thoughtfulness is not Laziness
Many cutting edge tech companies notoriously allow employees a set amount of time to innovate. Others don't even track their employee hours; they simply trust them to get their projects done. Case study after case study has shown this is actually the preferable way to manage productivity; by putting less of an emphasis on the quantity of work done and more of an emphasis on the quality of work done, employees are encouraged to innovate and improve.
How do you build the next big thing– the next Uber? The next Google? Through thoughtful innovation. If your engineers claim they don’t have time to innovate, it’s time to ask the hard questions like, “Is filling out the TPS Report on a daily basis really mission critical? Do my engineers truly need to be the ones tracking down an unplugged power cable? When my engineers are on vacation in attempt to recharge, should they be answering a page about network capacity?”
Clearing time for your engineers to innovate isn’t easy, but it’s one of the most important aspects in an IT leader’s role in order to enhance the value others see in investing in IT.