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3 Management Lessons Learned in 2020 the Hard Way

By January 19, 2021Leadership, People

Today I’ll be covering three lessons that stood out to me in 2020 as an agency and small business owner. These are valuable to any business owner and especially to small business owners and those who work in agencies or in the B2B space.

1. Being Busy Does Not Always Mean Being Productive

The first important lesson that I learned in 2020 here at Big Red Jelly, is that being busy does not always mean being productive.  Russell Roth, the president of Kotter Consulting to Forbes, has said “When we see people doing what they did last week or last month, just because they did it last month and not changing it because they want to get somewhere different, that’s busy. People think that it’s urgent, but that’s not urgent. That’s not focused. That’s just perpetuating what’s always been done.” I found myself doing a lot of that in 2020. I have a bad habit of creating a to-do list the day before and the length of my to-do list that I was able to get done the next day. In a way, I saw that as an accomplishment, which it is to a certain extent. However, over time I really started to learn that being busy does not mean you are being productive and it certainly doesn’t mean you are being smart or efficient with your work. Starting in 2021 it’s a big goal of mine to be a lot more efficient in what we’re doing.

I recently heard of a practice experiment to help improve efficiency. First, you write down the things you have to do the next day. Most of us wouldn’t have a hard time doing that. In fact, you’ve probably been down that road before. However, the next step is that you circle the top three things you need to get done. The point here is that the rest you don’t need to do and you shouldn’t do. Those are things that should be delegated. Those are things that you added because you felt like you have to. According to the quote from Russell Roth, you are just doing it because, well, that’s what you did last week or that’s what you did last month. Not only would you find that you’re doing this, but maybe people on your team are doing this at the company you work with. It’s a habit we need to get out of. We often see this especially in the entrepreneurial or the startup space. It’s cool to be on the grind, to always be so busy that you’re at the office at 10 p.m.

For a while, I fell into that trap. Here’s what I’ll tell you: it’s not cool. What is cool is to be efficient and productive. It’s a double whammy. What I finally learned in 2020 was that if you actually focus on those top three tasks and you delegate the rest, not only are you more efficient but in a bizarre way that I cannot explain, most of the time you end up getting more done by doing less right. You might have a three day weekend ahead of you or a full day off. And you say, oh, man, I have so much time ahead of me, I can’t even begin to imagine the number of things I’m going to get done and what inevitably ends up happening in those days where we have the most amount of time, we get the least amount done. However, when we have a busy day ahead of us and we’re strategic with it in a bizarre way, we get even more done in our personal lives and lives at home on those busy workdays. Maybe that’s just me, but I think that does apply to other people. Time management and prioritization make a big difference. So again, lesson number one of 2020 that I learned is that being busy does not mean being productive. 


2. Always Reserve Time for Long-Term Planning and Strategy

The second lesson I learned in 2020 is one that I am still learning: I need to always reserve time for long-term planning and strategy. I don’t know when this lesson really hit me, but there’s been this common thread that was going through my mind, through Q3 and Q4 of 2020.

 As I mentioned, I have a bad habit of doing a large amount of client work. I continuously have my hands-on projects to move things forward, I’ll do sales and digital marketing myself, I’ll be involved in design, etc. Often, I feel like I am giving to the team in that respect when the reality is that if you’re in a leadership role, whatever that might be, if you’re spending even a portion of your time doing that you’re doing a disservice to your team. This was an epiphany for me. Your employees are not capable of doing some of the things that you can as a leader because they don’t have the responsibility, access, or the credibility to make certain decisions. For example, they’re not going to go and hire new people. They’re not going to make adjustments to your services, your pricing, what services you offer, and how you offer them. They’re not going to make major changes to your processes, branding, marketing, positioning, who you have on the team, or your training. They are going to work on the client work which is what they’re best at.

That really hit me. Every hour that I was spending on client work was one less hour that I was spending on the business. And in that respect, I’m doing a disservice. I almost could visualize my employee’s voices or their thoughts, even though they probably weren’t thinking this all the time. But, you know, hey, Josh, we’ve got this. We need you to focus on what’s going to take us to the next level. We need you to hire that next team member. We need you to train the team better. We need you to prepare better processes. That’s what the team needed me to do. I started blocking off some time on a weekly basis where there’s nothing else that intrudes on that time. It’s just for me to sit down and go over some of the big questions. What services are we offering? How are we offering them? What does our team look like? What’s our culture look like? These are big things that only I have control over.

3. Understanding Managerial Output Will Help you Focus on High Leverage Activities

One of the books that I finished in 2020 that I would recommend is High Output Management by Andrew S. Grove, the former chairman and CEO of Intel. What I liked most about this book is that it gives real practical things you can do today and tomorrow. It gives practical techniques on how to be a better manager at the end of the day. This quote sums up what high output management is all about: 

What is a manager’s output? I asked a group of middle managers just that question. I got these responses: judgments and opinions, direction, allocation of resources, mistakes detected, personnel trained and subordinates developed, courses taught, products, plans, and commitments negotiated. Do these things really constitute the output of a manager? I don’t think so. They are instead activities or descriptions of what managers do as they try to create a final result or output. What then is a manager’s output at Intel? If she is in charge of a wafer fabrication plant, her output consists of completed high-quality, full-process silicone wafers. If he supervises the design group, his output consists of completed designs that work correctly and are ready to go into manufacturing. If a manager is the principal of a high school, her output will be trained and educated students who have either completed their schooling or are ready to move on to the next year of their studies. If the manager is a surgeon, his output is a fully recovered, healed patient. We can sum matters up, matters up with the proposition that and here’s the key. A manager’s output equals the output of his organization, plus the output of the neighboring organizations under his influence. 

This is an interesting way to think about it. Grove goes into the bread and butter of any business. A successful business is built on good management no matter what your size is. If you can be a good manager and those immediately beneath you can be good managers, you’re off to a great start. Part of being a good manager includes things like meetings, the medium of managerial work decisions, planning today’s actions for tomorrow, hybrid or dual reporting modes of control, task, growth, and maturity. These are real, practical solutions. When I actually finished reading the book, I applied some of these things the very next day.

When we understand managerial output then we better understand what constitutes high leverage activities. High leverage activities are the things we do that have a big effect on our businesses. At the end of his book, Grove has an exercise with various quick things you can do right now. Each one is allocated points and the goal is to get 100 points by the end of the week or the month. Now, when I try to allocate my time and plan out my day, I ask myself, is this a high leverage activity? 

There are several examples of high leverage activities that I do increasingly. Recording training or academy videos can be a high leverage activity. I record a video one time and it’s used an infinite amount of times for future team members implementing a process that’s going to touch probably hundreds, if not thousands of clients going forward. People like to frown on meetings a lot, but we have to remember that if done correctly they can be a high leverage opportunity because it’s communication from one to many instead of from one to one. Another high leverage activity is effectively training a manager or someone whos going to train other team members. If you can effectively train someone one on one then they will affect who knows how many in their team and throughout the organization.

In 2020, I learned that focusing on high leverage activities leads to strong outcomes. I really try hard when I find myself going down that tunnel vision road where I’m stuck on the client work or the technical work to remember that I need to take a step back and say my team needs me to focus on some of these other areas. When I focus on my output as a manager, then I understand what high leverage activities are.

The past year has been a year of learning. To review the three biggest management lessons I learned in 2020 were: 

  1. Being busy does not always mean being productive
  2. Always reserve time for long-term planning and strategy
  3. Understanding managerial output will help you focus on high leverage activities

Implementing these lessons at Big Red Jelly is helping us grow and become more efficient so we can continue to help our clients succeed. 

Today’s article comes from a previously recorded video. Check out the video here!