When a young man asked Margaret Thatcher if she had any advice that might help him rise to his full potential, she fixed him deep in her steady gaze and said, “Stay a little bit hungry and a little bit cold.”
I believe she gave him wise advice.
Have you ever visited a company whose employees seemed unfocused and unmotivated? Did you wonder what caused this cloud of malaise? Chances are, the culprit was comfort – ample money, ample time and more than enough hands to lift the burden.
Too much help causes even the best of us to unwittingly slow the pace. In 25 years of studying businesses across America, I’ve noticed that the most enthusiastic and energetic companies always seem to be slightly understaffed. The pace at these companies is brisk because the employees know, “If I don’t do it, it won’t get done.”
Have you ever noticed how work, like a vapor, will expand to fill the time allowed for it? Give a person an hour to finish a project and it will probably take them about an hour. Give them half a day to do the same job and it will take half a day. Give them three days to do it and they’ll likely tell you it will take at least a week. And they will actually believe they are telling you the truth.
When people have too little work and too much time, they:
- 1. unconsciously slow the pace of the work, or
- 2. create additional, unnecessary steps so that the job seems bigger than it really is, or
- 3. fill the time creating redundancies and procedures until they have created a full-fledged bureaucracy.
Contrary to what you may believe, the primary difference between dull companies and enthusiastic ones isn’t in their choice of people, but in how much those people are trusted. Dull companies don’t depend on individual workers but on the department, “the team.” High-productivity companies know that even a sluggard will rise to the occasion when he’s aware that everyone is counting on him. Do your employees know how much you are counting on them? Do they know how desperately you need their best efforts?
If your company has become slow and lethargic, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ve “hired the wrong people,” but maybe you hired too many of the right ones. Am I suggesting that you fire some folks? Of course not. But I do believe you ought to consider giving some of them a new job description. Is there a business opportunity that you would pursue “if only you had the manpower?”
Maybe you’ve had it all along.
Give your people a challenge they can sink their teeth into and they’ll do things you never knew they could do.
Chances are, they probably didn’t know, themselves.