Wednesday, September 28, 2005

      Smart Resource Management

Just a few days ago, my wife was indicating an article in ‘Dilbert’s Management’ about how weak managers like to assign out meaningless tasks to their subordinates. The article goes on to point out how people sitting nearest the boss usually ends up with the ‘shit jobs’, and a few other points which are really funny, yet very apt as well. This is one issue that I can affiliate with very well; given that I have been managing people for a few years now.

In this blog, I wish to talk about focusing our resources (money, time, people) at 2 levels of perspective; at a company/organization level, and at an individual’s level.

The Problem (in a Company / Organisation)

You see, the issue with management is that it is very much soft-skill based, and they are not readily measurable, unlike engineering-based jobs. Mistakes in wrong management are also not readily observable and are always subjected to arguments. I have seen managers and bosses who throw out meaningless assignments without concern for the subordinates ability to handle the tasks, and committing budgets to capabilities with little business value.

For subordinates, the person to action on the tasks is always someone other than the manager. Miraculously, these workers always manage to ‘complete’ the assigned tasks (after endless over-times). However, I have to point out the damages these meaningless tasks caused do exist, and they are tangible, albeit less observable. By flooding our industrious subordinates with meaningful tasks, we reduce their concentration and focus away from tasks that REALLY matters to the well-being of the company.

One common issue we can find with managers is that they failed to prioritise. Ask your boss that out of the 10 assigned tasks, which are more important and needs attention first, chances are that he will tell you all are important (faint…).

Indeed, in this fast-paced world today, we are increasingly hearing the buzzword ‘multitasking’ as a requirement from hiring managers. Managers are faced with many business demands from multi-faceted dimensions, and they try to comply with all these demands. Hence they end up ‘fire-fighting’ on a daily basis, responding to events as and when they occurred. The result is stretched resources spread amidst myriad disconnected issues that do not contribute significantly. Weak managers fail to realize that if they try to be everything to everyone, all the time, then the end result is that they are nothing.

Staying Focus (in a Company / Organisation)

In ‘The World is Flat’, Thomas Friedman talks about one way for companies to cope with the new demands of today’s world is to “… get regular x-rays and then sell the results to their clients”. What this means is “to constantly identify and strengthen their niches and outsource the stuff that is not very differentiating”.

Indeed, the fact of life is that resources are ALWAYS LIMITED. No matter how big your organization is, there are always more demands than the resources you have to do it. Other than using technology to automate, managers still must prioritise betweens tasks that matter and tasks that don’t. It is usually easier to say ‘yes’ and take on meaningless tasks, then it is to say ‘no’ that those demands that doesn’t match the organization’s aim. [You have to ] “... let go of the things that you can outsource, and free up those resources and focus on the projects that could one day be part of your core competency.

Personally, my experiences say that if you focused your people’s actions. They are able to deliver values beyond what is expected. In addition, you don’t overwork your people, provides them with a better work/life balance. This translates into better job satisfaction, and talent retention. It’s win-win.

The Problem (for an Individual)

In terms of personal development, the same issues can be mirrored onto individuals as well. If we try to be able to do everything, for everyone; chances are we will end up achieving much lesser, compared to someone who knows their goals, and focused their time and money resources into its development.

I have an analogy for this that I like to quote: Role-playing games (RPGs). Yes, you heard me right, role-playing games.

In RPGs, we take on pseudo characters with a certain class (or career), and related skill trees. As we advance our character, we can develop the skills in the skill tree to develop our characters. Usually, there is more than one path for a character’s development, and the points (resources) put into the skill trees will determine how the character will evolved. For example, a mage can have 3 skill trees to choose from; fire, ice and lightning. As usual, the number of skill points is not infinite, and players have to decide on how to spend the skill points to develop their characters.

Now let’s reflect this onto our life. Our time is limited (we will die someday), so we will need to decide how we wish to spend our time to achieve the maximum development out of it. People lament lack of meaning in their life, and not achieving as much as they would hope. Yet, we find people trying to achieve everything, only to end up failing, frustrated and disillusioned; despite all the hard work. Doesn’t make sense!

Staying Focus (for an Individual)

Again, the basis of my argument is that an individual’s time and money resources are limited. We have only 24 hours a day, there’s only some much money you can have. So we must priorities our resources on things that matter in our life.

To do this, individuals must know what they want. Sounds simple, but many people don’t. The 2nd habit, ‘Begin with the end in mind’ by Stephen R. Covey is a true reflection of this point.

Learn to focus your efforts and to say ‘no’ to things that does not contribute to the personal development that you would want. But that only happen if you first know what type of character you want yourself to be; a famous star, a good parent, the best soccer player, a wise philosopher? It’s just like deciding if you want to be a fire mage, ice mage, barbarian or arrow-searing amazon. Once you have decided on what character to build, deciding on where to throw your skill points is almost a no-brainer.


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