Business and Busyness: A world of difference

2010 Update: I made the decision to bring Say “Alaka‘i” here to Talking Story in late May of 2010 when the Honolulu Advertiser, where the blog previously appeared, was merged with the Star Bulletin (Read more at Say “Alaka‘i” is Returning to the Mothership).

Therefore, the post appearing below is a copy of the one which had originally appeared there on December 9, 2008, so we will be able to reference it in the future when the original url it had been published on is no more…


Business and Busyness: A world of difference

We all fall into auto-pilot at times. We defer to our comfort zones of routine and regularity because it is easier, because both the inputs required and the outcomes of doing so are predictable, because we prefer to stay under the radar for now, and because we are so utterly human: At times we just need to stop trying harder and cruise a bit, going through the motions of making “normal” happen.

Understandable. Okay even, as long as we are aware that we have those lapses of uninspired energy exertion (for auto-pilot still requires some energy spending) and we intentionally choose to have that kind of moment, or hour, or entire day. Beyond a day is sleep-walking and you need help waking up.

It may be battery recharge time with our engines running, but on idle. But it’s definitely NOT okay in any business where idling and auto-pilot becomes the rule versus the rare exception. Not good for the business, and not good for the spirit of the people behind the wheel. Our engines are made for high performance.

Great managers play interference

One of the ways that great managers contribute best to their organizations is through the art of interception and interference: They step in when people robotically fall into auto-pilot for prolonged periods of time, and they introduce sequence breaks which get differences to happen. They are like cold buckets of water thrown on sagging shoulders on a hot summer’s day, getting the most briskly refreshing results you can imagine. They get our engines to race, and we become grateful that they do.

Here is how you can check if your supervisors and managers are those great ones capable of knowing when they need to intercept and play interference in the context of your own business enterprise or industry discipline: Ask them to brainstorm a two-column list with you.

  • In Column 1: Good Business
    List people-generated workplace activities which happen daily, weekly, or monthly that they consider the worthwhile work connected to your strategic objectives: These are activities which are mission-critical and essential, and which result in meaningful accomplishments.
  • In Column 2: Auto-pilot Busyness
    List people-generated workplace activities which happen daily, weekly, or monthly that they consider to be the busyness of hustle and bustle habitual routine: These are activities which consume time and attention, may seem valid, but do not directly contribute to the mission at hand. They are activities which produce busyness, but not relevant accomplishment.

Great managers know the differences between when people are engaged with work productively, or simply keeping themselves busy with it as their engines essentially remain idle.

The difficulty that many managers face however, particularly new supervisors, is in separating their people’s personalities from the detail and banality of the workplace activities themselves. People get accused of being lazy, uninspired, or without initiative when they are actually stuck in auto-pilot and need some help shifting out of it; there is a deceptive lull to busyness that we can all fall prey to at times.

Great managers help their people succeed better, and help them enjoy the work it takes for that to happen. How so?

Name the next play

Part two of the exercise is the part which is exceptionally useful. Talk about how you shift Column 2 work into Column 1 work.

First, connect specific actions to those skills, tasks, and activities that will cause the shift to happen from auto-pilot busyness to good business within your workplace. Name them so they can specifically be referred to going forward, and because the naming process will require more clarity from you. Then, talk about HOW the supervisor and manager will make the sequence interruptions happen in the course of the day, week, or month.

Next, talk about WHEN it is best to do so in the activity sequence connected to a person’s handling of it, so that the best possible engagement with meaningful work can begin to happen. This is where people specifics will come back into the conversation, AFTER you have dealt with the workplace activities and performance expectations objectively and as universally as possible. People bring their own unique talents to the skills required, and this matching up of workplace-qualified skills with innate talent is where great managers understand their work becomes a situational art, one person at a time.

This is where mentorship versus uncomfortable task correction begins to happen, and partnerships result.

Is this your first time reading?
You may find it helpful to visit this posting in our Say “Alaka‘i” archives, combining the definitions there with our discussion in this one:
Management versus Leadership: Power up your vocabulary!