Do nothing but just think
Whenever I have some time to myself, I devote some “quality time” to do nothing and just think—I find this gives me tremendous value.
My previous career was with a global Fortune 500 company in the financial service industry. The industry has an interesting practice; every employee in a managerial position and above must go for five consecutive days of annual leave. During these five days of block leave, the company cannot contact them and vice versa.
The reason behind this practice is risk management—the company, department, and team must operate as usual, even without this person.
In reality, this is hard to implement because key personnel who hold critical positions in the company find it is hard to go for annual leave as they have too many things to complete.
That’s why sometimes, as HR, we have to force these managerial employees to utilize their block leaves entirely.
From a talent development perspective, even without this practice in place, I will strongly suggest that my colleagues give themselves a week or a longer time for their break. If they do not go for a holiday or give themselves some free time, they will be constantly busy in the workplace.
Their work will be endless. Someone in their team/department will keep asking for help. The team will not grow because managers are used to solving every problem for them.
Managers may feel good by helping their team, but this results in team members give up their responsibilities and delegate their jobs to the managers. That’s why it is not right to be always busy.
I made this mistake during my past career. I spent a lot of time teaching my team how to do things correctly. As a result, whenever my team had problems, they would just forward the problems to me.
Gradually, I learned from my mistakes, and I decided to press the “reset” button in my work. I spent some time doing nothing but just think. Then I tried a better approach: discuss work objectives, workload, resources needed, and expected results with the team.
So whenever they would come across difficulties, instead of asking for solutions from me, they would go the extra mile to solve those difficulties.
That’s how talent can grow within the team, leaving managers to focus on what matters most.
Painful but joyful
All of us in the corporate world are busy and work long hours. I started my early career in a well-known IT company in China. I was lucky to join a human capital improvement project as I learned a world-class people management framework from them.
Since the company invested millions of dollars in this project, we had a very demanding deadline to achieve the project objectives.
There were 15 of us in the core team, and we worked over 70 hours per week. Colleagues in other teams gave our team a nickname: “Nan Fu battery." (Nan Fu battery is a top battery brand in China and has six times longer battery life than ordinary battery).
To a young lady like me at the time, working such long hours was painful but joyful. It was painful for me because sometimes I felt my legs were swollen after sitting in front of the computer for so long, and my head was heavy.
But the experience was joyful because we knew where we were going, and we knew we were on the right track.
One thing that enabled me to continue having a sense of achievement was biweekly review meetings, which began with a clear comparison of intended vs. actual results. During the meeting, my ex-manager always asked us critical questions, such as:
1. Are the things we do meaningful? Among all the work we do, did we identify the most critical objectives we want to achieve?
2.Will we come across the same challenges again and again? Do we worry about the same problems now and three months later?
3. If yes, how shall we become more efficient in solving those challenges?
4. If no, what shall we do in 1 month? 3-month’s time and 6-month’s time?
At the start, when my ex-manager asked me those questions, I was speechless and ashamed of myself. Eventually, I started to focus on the right things which mattered to my team and company.
When I reflect on my working experience with this Chinese IT company, I asked myself: why the workload was heavy, but I was enthusiastic about my job and feel rewarding?
I think the primary reasons are: I understood my work’s significance, and I had a clear picture of how I shall achieve my objectives. That was my initial experience with the OKR mindset and principle.
Now and future
Today, many of my clients are small and medium enterprises. The advantage of these types of companies is that when the company is small, one person can act as a “firefighter" and do the work of 5 people.
My concern is, what happens when the company grows from 100+ pax to 1000+ pax? If employees are still acting as “firefighters,” they cannot make measurable progress to achieve the company’s vision and mission because there will be no alignment in the company.
With this in mind, I explored how to enhance the alignment and execution within small and medium enterprises, and I found Ben’s book: Objectives and Key Results.
From Ben’s book and his other sharing, I have a firm belief that how powerful OKR is to a company in the journey of continuous improvement and innovation. That’s the value I want to create in my career for society. That’s why I am in Ben’s OKRs coach network now. The rest becomes history.