Can you only work SMART if you’re small?

Last week I worked for a day with a family owned waste disposal company in Cornwall.  I spent the day with the senior management team investigating Change Management, a topic of considerable relevance to them as they are enjoying exponential growth.

As the kickoff to the day I ran an exercise which I have done with what must be several thousand people from all shapes and sizes of organisation around the world over the years, in which I give them as an icebreaker a little data collection project from which we get a snapshot of the views of those in the room on the topic we are discussing for the day.  As usual they made a bit of a hash of it, and when we debriefed I asked them how true to life the behaviours they just displayed were (answer: completely).

I then went up a level to ask them about how their working week typically breaks down, using a model I call  Working Smart.

I asked them what percentage of their typical week they each spend in each of the four quadrants:

1.  Right Wrong:  doing stuff they should be doing and not doing it efficiently

2.  Wrong Wrong:  doing stuff they should not be doing, and doing it badly

3.  Wrong Right: doing stuff they should not be doing and being great at it

4.  Right Right:  doing stuff they should do and doing it well.

I was initially surprised at their answer:  overall they estimated that they spend 80 %  of their time in Quadrant 4, doing stuff they should be doing and doing it well.  In my experience this is a very high percentage.  The norm is more like just 40%, and having asked so many people the same question I could argue it is a statistically valid result.

My first reaction was that this group was either deluded or didn’t understand my question.  Surely no organisation would be able to spend so much time doing things they should be doing and doing them well?  But having thought about it further, I’m wondering whether I might be the one who is deluded.  Maybe because I work mainly with large corporates I have come to expect people to be wasting 3 days per week on Wrong activity, and I have come to believe in the inherent inefficiency of peoples’ working lives, so when I come across an organisation that just might be good at what it does, sticking to the knitting, having people really focussed on what is important and all pulling in the same direction, my natural reaction is to doubt the validity of what they tell me.

I wonder whether it is a function of growth, that as your organisation gets bigger it gets harder to Work Smart?  I wonder what the correlation is between growth and inefficiency.  I’d love to hear from anyone who has any data on this one, not least to satisfy my curiosity but also to help me to keep more of an open mind!

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About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at
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One Response to Can you only work SMART if you’re small?

  1. Graham Whiting says:

    I agree with you Mike. The bigger the organisation the more difficult it is to be SMART. I have one customer who is a multinational with thousands of employees around the world. Many of their staff are required to work SMART and work from home or clients sites. This means they spend a whole load of their time trying to get various pieces of technology to work so they can get on and do their job. Simple things like filling in a timesheet can turn into major time stealers.

    If you then add to that the time required to survive in a large organisation things get worse. if you are going to the office you neeed to book a desk, if you are working on site with the client you need to book a hotel, you can only do that through the approved travel supply company, it all takes time.

    In my experience the people who do a good job in these organisations are a bit maverick and break/ignore many of the corporate restrictions. Unfortunately this often leads to their early demise for some persistent minor misdemeanor, such as annoying their boss by constantly booking Travelodges instead of the more expensive corparately recommended hotels. this misdemeanor obviously leads to time theft from all those involved in sorting it out and the problem spirals out of control.

    I think many large organisations should seriously examine their policies and behaviours and ask themselves “If it was my money would I behave like this?”. After all the key difference between your family owned tiddler and those large corporates you work with, is who’s money you are playing with.

    If the money belongs to an anonymous group of shareholders you will worry about it less than you would if it is your inheritance.

    By the way, my father has promised to leave me his country estate. Unfortunately it is an Austin Montego.


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