24th September 2015

I was busy doin’ something close to nothin’

Yes, it’s a line from the classic Prince song Raspberry Beret . . . and apologies upfront if you don’t get the song out of your head for a while, but here’s why it’s the title of my post.

A little while back I was undertaking a DIY project, attaching some shelves to a wall. As you do, I went to my local hardware store to buy a drill.  I was having a great time looking at the various brands and models with all their features picturing all the fabbo projects I would deliver ahead of time and under budget with my new power tool. 

The sales assistant came over to help and asked what the drill was for.  I proudly told him what I was doing.  Then he burst my bubble . . . . “Ok, yeah, so, what you need is a hole in the wall?”  I thought “Hello, hello, think McFly, think?” You don’t need a drill, you need a hole in the wall.  I’m sure that’s a paraphrase of some sage advice I’d heard before but this time it hit me between the eyes.

In the car on the way home Raspberry Beret came on the radio, and the moment Prince sang that now eponymous line I realised that morning “I was busy doing something close to nothing”.  A set of shelves hung level and flush was the outcome.  I had a need to get a hole in the wall in the right spot for the shelf anchor and therefore my job was to decide the best way to enable that hole to get there.  I realised I had spent quite a bit of time that day thinking more about the enabler, not the need and certainly not the outcome.  But, I was certainly making myself busy (doing something close to nothing).

So, to get that song out of my head I started thinking about where else time is spent doing something close to nothing, and since I’m a consultant with a prior life in HR, it didn’t take long to come up with a few examples . . .  like . . .

  • I had just taken on an assignment to recruit a senior role in a high profile organisation and the client had just sent over the Position Description.  It ran to four pages and didn’t really say anything distinguishing about what the ideal candidate would deliver.  The scary part was someone had just spent two days “updating” it!
  • A client rang and said the global engagement survey results had come in and they had not gone up as expected even though the leadership team spent the month leading up to the survey on meetings and offsites “engaging employees in the vision, mission and values”.
  • I was coaching a frustrated HR executive who had spent two years first evaluating, and then implementing, a state of the art performance management software platform to ‘streamline’ the process, only to find uptake on the ‘new platform’ was no better than the paper system it replaced.

In each case the enabler was becoming more important than the need, and the path to the required outcome was being stalled or blocked.

Here’s my point.  Work becomes more efficient and more effective when we start with a clear idea of the final outcome.  Then the real need will reveal itself, and, in turn, you will be able to choose the most appropriate enabler.

Have there been times when you spent more time focused on the drill than on the hole in the wall?  How often do you spend more time on the enabler rather than the need?  Do you find yourself forgetting about the outcome all together?

We’d love to hear your thoughts and stories

Justin Miles
Partner, Melbourne
Generator Talent Group

THE TALENT WORKSHOP is the leadership development arm of the Generator Talent Group and offers a collection of best-in-class programs, delivering a range of Executive Assessment & Leadership Development outcomes that transform individuals, teams and companies. Click here to visit our website

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