“Slow The Game” To Accelerate Business Innovation14 January, 2019 / Articles
Elite athletes often say their performance reaches a new level when the game begins to “slow down” for them. After years of training, mental preparation, and experience, they see plays develop as opposed to everything happening in the blink of an eye. Players who attain this level of awareness hold a significant advantage. They pattern match more quickly, anticipate next moves more easily, and act (or react) decisively.
For many, however, the game remains fast. A lack of understanding or unfamiliar circumstances, can cause even great athletes or knowledge workers to fall short “in the moment.” Even more challenging: When a game is sped up (e.g. two-minute drill) or a business deadline shifts, what ensues can be painful to watch.
In business, employees thrive – and can innovate most effectively – when they more fully understand their work and have the opportunity to engage with it at a deeper, richer level. And it’s up to us as leaders to help our teams “slow the game,” so that every employee can contribute to the maximum extent possible – raising both their productivity and their capacity to read and react. The success of our businesses depends on the speed and quality of the insights and decisions our employees have and subsequently make.
More than just productivity
Technology gets a lot of credit for boosting worker productivity, but not enough recognition for the way it enables individuals to improve or innovate upon how work actually gets done. Yes, “how” we work is a fundamentally different measure than “how much” we have accomplished. Companies that focus primarily on additional output miss out on much of the value. The value of new technology doesn’t come solely from yielding greater capacity or throughput.
Technology-driven process improvements, visibility, and automation help remove wasted effort, provide the right information at the right time (context), and enable people to focus on higher-value activities. These benefits enable people to have more time to think and learn, to see the bigger picture, and to collaborate with co-workers. In other words, to “slow their work down” and achieve greater understanding to drive better decisions. In my view, the objective of automation is not to remove the worker from the work. Quite the contrary: It is to enable and improve how people engage with, inspect, improve, and execute the work that they are uniquely suited to do.
Automation “slows the game”
But today, technology-driven automation also means slashing the significant amount of time knowledge workers spend on a growing list of low-value tasks. More than 40 percent of respondents to a survey said they spend at least a quarter of their work week on manual, repetitive tasks; 75 percent say automation will free up time for more interesting, valuable work. And there’s no better way to slow the game than that.
For example, using a work execution platform such as Smartsheet, workers can speed execution with forms that make it easy to collect data and with rules that automate repetitive actions. Knowledge workers — with no coding experience — configure automated approval or notification processes that are based on easy-to-set conditions. Smartsheet can automatically send an approval request to a manager or customer, who can then quickly approve (or deny) the request from any device. While the system keeps the process moving forward, the knowledge worker who initiated the process focuses on more important things.
Many of the technologies driving new levels of visibility and automation require little or no technical expertise to implement, which means they can be deployed by virtually any team in any business. By the way, that means your competitors are probably deploying them right now.
Now put that time to work
What can your people do once freed from repetitive tasks and other time wasters? What can they do if they engage with – and understand – their work in a deeper way? Insurance agents can underwrite more policies, using precise data to better assess and manage risk. Mortgage brokers can develop client relationships that enable them to write new loans more quickly and with greater confidence than ever. And recruiters can locate the best candidates with greater precision.
In other words, when the game slows down due to the structure, simplicity, and predictability enabled by technology, new doors open to develop insights and innovation. Knowledge workers have the opportunity to innovate by observing their work more closely, distilling their observations into ideas, and developing an informed foundation on which their recommendations are executed. But, absent the right tools – when work feels overwhelming due to its volume, lack of structure, and velocity – it’s nearly impossible to be strategic and innovative.
Invest in the right technology tools and enable employees across the spectrum to understand and engage with their work in a more meaningful way. In doing so, you will slow the game for them. They will win more, and they will thank you for it.