Effort and value: 3 ways to combat "The Effort Trap"

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

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We’ve recently begun exploring a new project management system. Thinking about how that tool works as well as how it tracks time (and effort) led me to explore my own thoughts on effort and value.

Too often, we fall into “The Effort Trap” - the cultural bias that the harder you work at something, the more valuable it is. This post from 99U includes the example of a locksmith who found the faster he worked, the less satisfied his customers became.

As the author states, the bias may be rooted in the Protestant work ethic in our culture. Indeed, many of the project management tools we reviewed equated effort and time more than results, reinforcing this outdated thinking.

In my own experience, RESULTS are what matters - especially to clients. It’s a much more rewarding and meaningful to focus on the things you’re producing, not just the way in which you produce them. Sure, journey matters somewhat, but increasingly we’re living in a world where success isn’t defined by effort and participation, but instead by outcomes and results.

This is particularly true in the successes of entrepreneurialism. You work and work and work at a problem, but only a solution gets you traction. We take the same approach when it comes to agency work: do things that matter and change how businesses operate, not just take up time and billable hours.

Indeed, focusing on results helps to shift the way you conduct business: from the way you interact with clients to the way you assign projects with direct reports. Combatting “The Effort Trap” isn’t easy, but I’ve found these three steps can help:

1.Talk about projects in terms of what you want to happen.

Use the objectives of the assignment to make sure you’re delivering something of value each and every time.

2.Delegate deeply.

Don’t just ask the next step or (god forbid) prescribe a way of approaching a project. Instead, talk about what you want to accomplish and help breakdown barriers along the way. Deep delegation is critical in the results-driven economy.

3.Measure and report back.

Too often, we call a project complete before it’s really finished. By measuring and reporting back results, we can help reinforce the idea that focusing on results was the right approach.

How do you beat “The Effort Trap?” Share your thoughts with us via @IntrinzicSays.