“The squeaky wheel gets the grease.”
It’s a well-worn cliché, but that’s because it’s invariably true. Think about what happens in most organizations. Whatever’s making the most noise, whatever task is screaming loudly enough for urgent attention, will get done.
But is it getting done at the expense of potential greater organizational effectiveness down the road?
In fact, there are two types of work that have to be done in most organizations—day-to-day work (operational) and project work (initiatives)—and these two types don’t mix well. If organizational leadership isn’t thinking strategically about the type of work they’re assigning and holding people accountable to, they may not be making best use of the talent on their teams. What’s more, the work that has the potential to drive significant long-term organizational effectiveness may never get done.
Let’s take a closer look at the two types.
We’ve done some research into how the work breaks out, and our study found that only 5% of organizations say that the work being assigned falls entirely in the day-to-day work category. The vast majority has some mix of the two, whether it’s a 50-50 split (34% of respondents), 75-25 day-to-day vs. project (35%), or 25-75 day-to-day vs. project (26%).
If both contribute to organizational effectiveness, why does all of this matter? Well, for one, not everyone is prepared to do project work. Unlike the immediate sense of accomplishment that comes from doing day-to-day tasks, project work requires seeing and embracing the big picture. Since it’s not repetitive, it also has to be managed in a different way.
And while both kinds of work are important, their consequences are felt differently. When day-to-day work doesn’t get done, you feel it immediately. That’s one of the reasons it gets so much attention. The fallout from uncompleted project work won’t be realized for some time. But that fallout can be pretty powerful.
As long as the day-to-day is screaming out for attention and organizational leadership doesn’t intervene, project work will always get put off and pushed aside. Even though the majority of organizations in our study assign out both types of work, only 37% of them say they are able to complete more than 75% of those critical project initiatives they wanted to accomplish during the year.
The day-to-day has to get done for an organization to survive. But for organizations to get better, to continue to outpace the competition and meet new market demands, project work is essential.
If you’re a leader, you need to be thinking about how you will create an environment where people can be successful at executing on project work as well as their day-to-day work. When you put employees on projects, set an expectation that at least 65% of their time will be devoted to project work, and then hold them accountable to it.
To balance out priority demands, though, this also means that their day-to-day work will have to be adjusted so that it only requires 35% of their time to complete it. Understanding how and where to shift responsibilities and priorities to make sure the work gets done is an essential skill organizational leadership needs to develop in order for organizational effectiveness to get delivered, today as well as in the future.
This is probably going to require a paradigm shift for both you and your employees, especially since the squeaky wheel is going to keep calling out for 100% attention. But the good news is, a project has a beginning and an end. Do it right, and it won’t last forever.
If you’re struggling with this suggestion, ask yourself: