The afterglow of the holidays will fade by end of this week. The to-do list will grow longer. You still have your New Year’s resolution in mind. But instead of pushing back and pausing, you feel the need to rush in.
Your resolution should not be to do more. It should not be about sticking to the schedule. It should be about shortening what you would have written down. Do less. Make space for the essentials. You’ll end up working just as hard, but instead you’ll work on what truly matters.
Here’s one way to prioritize at work: think leverage.
Andy Grove, the legendary former chief executive and chairman of Intel, once described the productivity of a manager this way:
A manager’s output = the output of her organization + the output of the neighboring organizations under her influence
Say you want to increase the output of your organization. You can try to speed up your own work. That’s likely to lead to burnout, like what you remember from 2020. Or you can increase your managerial leverage.
You know that you are engaging in high-leverage activities when:
- many people are affected by your presence, or
- a person’s behavior has been changed over a long time by one brief encounter with you.
That’s why Grove believed that “training is, quite simply, one of the highest-leverage activities a manager can perform.” He said:
“Consider for a moment the possibility of your putting on a series of four lectures for members of your department. Let’s count on three hours of preparation for each hour of course time—twelve hours of work in total. Say that you have ten students in your class.
“Next year they will work a total of about twenty thousand hours for your organization. If your training efforts result in a 1% improvement in your subordinates’ performance, your company will gain the equivalent of two hundred hours of work as the result of the expenditure of your twelve hours.”
Grove was an engineer, so you’ve got to trust his math. Trust me, he made Intel deliver microprocessors with doubling computing power every eighteen months. Ticktock, ticktock. Like clockwork.
Here’s another consequence when you spend time training your own people: you get to delegate more with trust. That’s just another way to increase your leverage further still.
Now you ask, “How can I increase the output of the neighboring organizations?” Grove recommended supplying them with a unique key piece of knowledge or information. This can happen more easily than you think. Here’s an example.
I teach executive programs at IMD Business School. Due to COVID-19, programs went online. Program directors like me were tasked with developing new curricula, so we’ve launched a bunch. Now there’s this unjustified belief that professors are know-it-alls. So we are often left alone to “innovate.”
But here are the people who, in fact, can make data-driven suggestions to professors—the very quiet team that’s responsible for implementing our post-program surveys.
They are ones who can spot any emerging trend of what works and what doesn’t across the entire school’s portfolio, whereas professors are making wild guesses based on individual observations. All professors are trying to predict what can make an online program work, without seeing the full picture.
Put another way, a summary report given by the survey team can quickly change the day-to-day practice of dozens of professors. That’s leverage.
Think about your own work. You could be in accounting, legal, IT, HR, marketing, sales, production, or R&D. Are there insights that you can easily find out and share that will tremendously raise the productivity of others?
Adam Grant from Wharton has shown that being a giver—with no strings attached—is the best strategy when it comes to being successful in business and in life. Andy Grove is no academic, but he did what came intuitively and made it a discipline. What he practiced is highly leveraged giving—giving training, giving unique advice. Give what you can do easily, but make sure it will give others enormous value.
So in 2021, do less. Focus more on highly leveraged activities for this new year.
P.S., What’s your achievable New Year’s resolution for 2021? Any tricks that you use to make real and lasting changes? Join our discussion below.
This article is first published at Forbes.