The Value of Everyone’s Time


What struck me was the blueberry muffins story. Stanford professors Robert Sutton and Huggy Rao wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal about the ways bosses inadvertently waste employees’ time. One of their examples involved an executive who casually mentioned that he was hoping for a blueberry muffin at a breakfast meeting and thereafter employees made sure that there were always plenty of blueberry muffins. According to the authors, it was just an offhand comment, and he didn’t understand why employees made the extra effort to make sure they were always present until someone explained it to him.

There can be many ways bosses unconsciously waste employees’ time, usually by focusing on what they as leaders should be focused on, but also by not being particularly tuned in to others’ roles. Having employees respond with vigor to a stray comment shows that one way bosses do this is simply by not having effective communication with the people who work for them. Perhaps with better communication practices, employees would have asked whether blueberry muffins were a directive or a comment. Basically: they’d understand what was being said, and if they didn’t understand they’d ask.

Don’t Make Assumptions About Unfamiliar Tasks

Another way bosses or managers waste employees’ time is by making assumptions about tasks without knowing how long the task should actually take. Given a set of to-do’s, the employee is working diligently and then more is piled on. This usually happens without the leader understanding that the employee can’t possibly get all of them done in the suggested time frame and often doesn’t know which ones the boss wants prioritized. The employee might start scrambling from one task to the next, not effectively working on anything and having the frustrating experience of doing nothing well, or on time. Yes, said employee should speak up, but wouldn’t it be easier if the manager knew the bandwidth of the employee and how long the task should take? And not to mention, has a gauge on it to determine if the employee is performing well.

Obviously, things come up at the last minute. Clients call demanding something yesterday; it’s a crazy week. So if you, as a manager, need to throw a task in, make sure you have a dialogue about how it will get queued up and that the employee has the freedom to say, “Don’t forget, you gave me five other things to do this week.”

It’s only through effective communication that the right priorities are determined as to what needs to be done this week, this month, or this quarter. It’s about planning and collaboration. Otherwise, employees aren’t able to drive the company toward success, they’re just juggling tasks.

Like everyone else, bosses and managers wake up with their own to-do lists, priorities, deadlines, and goals. Unlike everyone else, they’re in charge of a team who can help them accomplish the deadlines and goals. Making sure they’re not randomly adding unnecessary tasks or scrambling the priorities can help everybody win.

And if your company could use help figuring out how to communicate effectively and plan cooperatively for wins for the company, call us.

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