Eliminating Work – Ezine December 2003

This issue is about  “Eliminating Work”.  People seem to be getting busier and busier with very little time to think and even less to “be”. This is very odd as we have more labour saving devices and much better and easier communications than ever before. I don’t have “the answer” to this but I do have a few practical ideas that may be helpful.

A further request for your stories

This is the eighth issue of these ezines. I have had some feedback saying they are helpful, and their circulation is expanding, so thank you. I would still be very interested indeed to hear of your stories of using any of the stuff in the ezines.  I would also be interested in your experience or ideas of working with the themes in your way.  If you wish and you give me permission, I could add a story to each edition, with your name and contact details if you want. I am sure this would enhance the ezine and develop the ideas too.

So, if you have had an interesting experience with these themes, will you email me a two or three paragraph story?

Some problems and benefits of eliminating work

You need some slack to improve the way you do anything. You need time to look at what happens now, time to think about how to make it better and time to put those improvements into practice. Many organisations have got smaller while doing the same amount or even more work. This can squeeze out time to think. Of course, some of this has been necessary. Most people would agree that some organisations have been very inefficient and that, in my field, week long training courses may not be the best way to deliver training and development.

If you can invest time to think and improve, then the returns can be staggering. ICI did some Coverdale training at a factory some years ago. A minor, but visible, outcome of the training was that meetings were more efficient. The minimum estimate for time saved was 10%. This led directly to a return on the investment in training of 42% a year compound.

Eliminating less valuable work can help people concentrate on higher value work that is more useful and more satisfying too. People grow and the organisation does too. I often find it helps to ask people at developmental events I run to think about what they might stop doing to make the space for the new ideas and plans that follow from such events. Otherwise, “Oh no, not more work!” can get in the way of good things happening.

Some solutions

Talk about it!

I once ran a whole series of short “Time management” courses in an organisation. The heart of these was for the people who attended to make a list of the issues that concerned them. We wrote these up as How to… So some might be “How to cope with interruptions? or How to set priorities?” Then the people shared their own best practice for managing these things and watched a film with some other ideas. This was very popular and worked well. It gave everyone permission to admit there was an issue in the organisation and that everyone had something to learn about handling it.

We got even more value when we did the same work with teams of people who worked together every day. Then they talked about how they made work for each other and decided how to do less of this.

Talk to your customers

In almost all jobs we provide a service or a product to an internal or external customer. You can waste a lot of time and effort if you don’t do enough or well enough and have to do it again. Even more time gets wasted when you do too much or too well to “impress”. I have seen very senior people make a casual request for some information that has set many people running around and doing “good” work. When the beautiful report finally got back to the requestor, he or she had forgotten why he or she asked for it. This is a complete waste. In one organisation a request form for a capital project went through 17 drafts before being put forward and the 17th draft was very close to the first one.

The “moral” from these tales is to discuss and agree what your customer wants or needs and how and the appropriate amount of effort before you start work. Thinking and planning time are really cheap compared to doing time.

All organisations have systems for doing things. These usually require quite junior people to be suppliers and customers to each other. If you get all the people involved in a room to talk about what they are doing, what the system is for and what they need from each other, you will find that whole chunks of work just disappear. Marks and Spencer did an exercise where they looked at all their systems and asked if they needed them. One of the criteria was “Does this give us more benefit than it costs to run?” As a result, they eliminated whole systems and their associated work.

Avoid making work for other people

We all get mounds of spam email everyday. The people who send it think of it as a very cheap and easy way of selling. It is cheap to send, but it costs us all to receive it. The same is true inside organisations. There are many ways to make work for each other. Email is an obvious one. I have one client who has suggested that all internal emails be no more than three lines long. I am not sure about that, but as 80% (?) of non-spam emails in organisations are internal, you could ask if they are all necessary?

How about putting “How to avoid making work for people?” on the agenda of a team meeting or in part of a developmental workshop?

Seek and give feedback

A head office employee gathers information from regional offices about the uptake of a service. The purpose of the work is for everyone to know what is going on across the country. The regional managers have asked for this.

However, he has to chase them for the information. He has no direct evidence about how his work is used. It seems possible is not useful because, if it was, would he have to chase it? This has been going on for years. You can imagine the regional people saying “Another one of those reports” and then filing it in the bin.

In this and similar cases, the provider of the information could ask for feedback about the present value of the work, and how to make it more valuable. The receiver could say that he or she likes the reports and finds them useful, make suggestions for simplifying them or say “I am sorry but I would like you to stop sending these as they are a waste of my time and yours”. This is more polite than the US Company who issued all it’s employees with a rubber stamp with “Bullshit” on it and instructions that, if you don’t find what you are being sent useful, use the stamp and send it back!

Encourage good work to drive out bad

Another approach might be to encourage people to talk about the work they do that they know is the most valuable, enjoyable, and stretching and life enhancing that they do. We could then ask them how they can find a way to do more of this. This might lead to the “dross” falling out naturally. I haven’t tried this as it has only just occurred to me while writing this issue. It as another example of an appreciative approach to managing change and might work. Do you think this is worth a try?

More information

There is more information about eliminating work on my website. The articles Work Laundry , Managing Time and Eliminating Work are directly relevant.

Feedback please

So, I hope you have found the information in this issue interesting and useful. The subjects I might cover in the next issues are: –

Conflict resolution

Developing your people

Improving working relationships

Removing emotional blocks

Stimulating creative thinking

Thinking tools and processes

Are these important to you?

I am sure there are many ways to make this more useful to you. Please let me know what you think of it, if you have time. If you have any particular developmental interests you would like me to cover, please let me know. I will try and respond if I can and if I don’t know anything about the subject, I will tell you.


I enjoy helping clients think through real issues involving people. I sometimes stay in the background as coach or consultant and sometimes work directly designing and delivering developmental events.  I am getting more and more interested in working in a appreciative way. This seems to release energy and get results easily and I enjoy it a lot. If you need to know more please refer to www.nickheap.co.uk ,email info@nickheap.co.uk or give me a call on +44 (0)1707 886553.

Many of the readers of this newsletter are consultants themselves. I learned a great deal from other consultants over the years so I am glad to have this opportunity to do the same


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