The Art of Doing Less

“You can’t manufacture time.”

I recently had a half day meeting with several of the leading HR leaders in Silicon Valley and after many hours of discussion about the future of work, corporate culture, and the role of new HR technologies, the biggest conclusion of all was “we have to do less.”

“The most important resource our people have is their time,” said one of the HR leaders from a well known media and technology company. “So what I’ve learned after nearly 20 years in HR, is that we need to do away with almost 75% of the things we do.”

Her example was mobility programs. They used to have many different programs for expat assignments, moves, and employee transitions. She finally realized it wasn’t worth the headache:  just put in place a policy to “be generous with employee moves.”

We had a similar conversation about performance management and compensation. “We just want to pay people competitive wages for their market skills, and not overly focus on whether or not they made their goals for the year,” said one CHRO. Everyone has a bad year now and then: we don’t want to penalize people for this – we want to reward them for maintaining above-market skills as leaders in our company.

Another well known Fortune 50 brand company put it simply:  “We have a whole new way people work now.  People are now shopping their skills internally, so we want to create an internal marketplace for talent.  It’s not very complicated to understand, but we have many things in the way.”  (Read Hacking the Career to understand why internal mobility is such a challenge today.) Their company built an internal job site to help the global marketing function serve as a giant consulting firm, and she said it has worked already.

The CHRO of a large non-profit took a fresh perspective:  “I came in to this job and saw a lot of HR programs and practices going on, yet I realized the most important issue we had was building a common culture.” (Their organization has a blend between a venture-capital, foundation, and university culture.) He said “I essentially shut off all major HR programs and I’ve been studying the work experience of our employees.  We are going to slowly add programs back once we really understand what people need.”  (Read our case study on T-Mobile if you want to learn more about how to reinvent HR with a fresh sheet of paper.)

Another CHRO told us he was experimenting with new HR tools to make their employees’ live easier. While all these companies have very sophisticated HRMS and ERP systems, he told me he has found a simple HR app tool (I won’t mention the name here) which people have flocked to using. Once he turned it on, people set goals, created performance plans, and built internal networks all on their own with almost no help from HR.  Again an example of “doing less to do more.”

The theme of all these meetings was the big idea of “Design Thinking.” Remember that in today’s working environment we are all flooded with too many emails, messages, and systems to use. Your job in HR is to “make employee’s work life better” – and that might mean less formal training, fewer programs, and simpler systems. Every discussion we had revolved about “doing less to do more,” something we all need to focus on in HR and leadership.

The final quote I want to mention came from one of the HR leaders from a consumer products company. She made a simple observation:  we are trying to sell tools to consumers to help them improve their health, wellness and fitness. Maybe we should do the same for our employees too?  Let’s take the culture of our company and make sure it’s authentic from top to bottom. The management team jumped up and down and said “of course, why didn’t we think of that before?”

We were just too busy.

You may also like...