Can you create a sense of urgency?

Have you ever felt like your team wasn’t all that productive? I have a client who’s been struggling with that for a while now. He has a great team helping to run the business but there’s a strong feeling that they tend to coast most of the time. They’re ‘busy’ but it’s not clear that there’s as much getting done as might be expected (or hoped for…).

Microsoft Japan just ran an experiment earlier this summer where they implemented a 4 day work week – the office was closed on Fridays for the month of August. Additionally they limited meetings to no more than 30 minutes and encouraged people to work remotely where it made sense. The net result was a 40% boost in productivity compared to the previous August…!

So they worked 20% less time and yet they got more done – that’s a trade-off that everyone can get behind. And it’s not just Microsoft – other companies have tried this kind of experiment or just shifted to working less and ended up with similar results.

How does that work?

One explanation for why Microsoft (and others) had this counter-intuitive outcome is instilling a sense of urgency. You know how crazy productive you can be the day before you leave on vacation? That’s an example of Parkinson’s Law in action: “Work expands so as to fill the time available for its completion”.

Obviously this idea has it’s limits. You probably can’t take 10 hours of work and get it done in 1 hour. But there is something about constraints that brings out creative solutions – what if you challenged your team to review that 10 hours of work and come up with a different solution that takes a lot less time?

Have you ever had a situation where you’re hosting an event or have some kind of public deadline? If you’re like most teams, that kind of situation creates a major sense of urgency and a lot of stuff gets done to avoid missing that public deadline.

How can you make this work for your business? You could try your own limited work week experiment – most employees would love to have more time off (especially when their pay stays the same) and they would likely be very engaged in finding a way to make that work.

Alternatively you could set up a contest or a challenge for the next month or the next quarter – if we can get XX% more done next month, then everyone gets an extra $500 as a bonus, or a party, or an afternoon off, or… whatever might motivate your team.

What are some ways you could instill a sense of urgency in your team? Are they feeling too comfortable with how things are? Are they busy but not really productive?

What do you think? We’d love to hear your thoughts on this.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach