For years, conventional business wisdom has told us that diligent, hard-working, obedient employees were the Holy Grail of human resources. This thinking has informed the way we evaluate students, workers and even managers for generations.
And certainly, it has been a sound strategy for the majority of the last century where success in the industrial revolution model of business relied almost exclusively on time and energy in as the critical metrics as to whether an employee was productive and delivering value to the organization.
While work and its supporting processes were linear, measuring progress was actually pretty simple. But the linear nature of such business also ensured that change was less volatile and easier to prepare for and manage.
But that is hardly the commercial environment we live in today.
The digital revolution is disrupting business models left and right, which means that value and productivity are likewise being determined by vastly different factors.
In fact, in this age of hyper-connectivity and rapid change, diligent, hard workers may in fact be a liability. The reason for this is that these workers are less change hardy and adaptable that we require. They have a tendency to ignore distraction and put their noses to the grindstone, even when that grindstone may be outdated and even taking us in the wrong direction.
Contrast this with what we sometimes describe as “lazy” or “high-maintenance” employees. Historically, these people have been a source of managerial headaches and hair loss. They question processes, they look for short cuts, they actively seek to get thing done with less of effort in less time using fewer steps and a minimum of human capital. But it turns out; this is precisely the kind of employee that is critical today’s changing market place.
Of course no one want employees who do nothing at all. Clearly there’s a distinction between dead wood and smart albeit lazy employees. However those who still achieve results whilst expending less effort or whilst identifying “cheats” or short cuts are key to the innovation and mental agility that allows organizations to not simply manage change, but to drive it – deliberately and congruently.
In fact, they’re precisely the kind of people we need to be considering for leadership within your organization.
What these employees foster is a more intrapreneurial culture, or hubs of innovation, that are not only less threatened by change, but see it as critical to their engagement.
More importantly, they represent an acknowledgement of a fairly common bias towards the path of least resistance and this aligns more fully with general human nature. The truth is, we’re all lazy from time to time – the key is how we make this work for us.
It is in human nature to favor simpler and easier processes, to expend less energy that we have to and to achieve more with less activity. But this has hardly been popular with leaders and managers in days gone by. Far preferable was the employee who looked industrious, even if they turned a half-day’s work into an eight-hour shift.
However, by aligning with our natural tendencies, and learning to embrace the right kind of laziness, we not only achieve more with less, we also drive greater engagement. Dan Gregory& Kieran Flanagan are behavioral researchers and strategists, specializing in behaviors and belief systems–what drives, motivates and influences us. They have won business awards around the world for Innovation, Creativity and ROI working with such organizations as Coca-Cola, Unilever, News Corp and the United Nations in Singapore. They are passionate advocates for the commercial power of creativity and a return to more human engagement, cultures and leadership. Published by WILEY, Kieran and Dan’s new book Selfish, Scared & Stupid is available in paperback RRP $22.95 from www.selfishscaredandstupid.com.