I recently ran across a book with the title Fake Work: Why People Are Working Harder than Ever but Accomplishing Less, and How to Fix the Problem. I have to confess that it went on my “so many books, so little time” pile. That probably says a lot right there.
The idea of “fake” work is very compelling when we think about managing resources effectively. According to Forbes author Dean Duncan, this work can be well intentioned, and it can lead to a lot of hard effort, but it is not clearly linked to an organization’s goals and objectives. It’s easy to think of examples in higher education – staff meetings that are held only because it’s tradition, collaborative meetings to decide on something that could have been delegated to a few experts, travel time to in-person events that could have been held electronically, or reports that are generated even though the metrics are outdated.
Duncan provides some tips for ensuring that we as leaders, and the people we work with, are focusing on “real” work.
- Be strategic. Position descriptions and work assignments should clearly describe how the task is contributing to the organization’s purpose.
- Use meaningful metrics. Everyone should be on the same page about what success looks like and how it will be measured.
- Monitor busy-ness. When people are unclear about priorities, they can spend a lot of effort and energy on the wrong things. What has been done in the past that no longer needs to happen? Where are people doing lots of activity without generating concrete results?
- Communicate. A lot. Treat communication as a key part of everyone’s role. Seek feedback to be sure you were understood and that you understand others.
- Understand yourself and others. The more you know about your own work style and that of your team members, the easier it will be to recognize tendencies to generate fake work.
If there is no clear link to strategy, no one is paying attention to outcomes, and it’s hard to figure out what you accomplished even though it took a long time — then consider whether the task needs to be done, or at least whether it can be done with fewer resources.
What’s an example of fake work that you’ve seen? How did you manage it?
Dee Anne Bonebright