If your organization is at all on top of things, your production line is lean and mean. The processes used to produce and deliver value for which customers are willing to pay are well-defined and reliable. You measure productivity in widgets per hour and expect 99.9% uptime and nearly zero defects. Priorities are clear. Routines are well-established. Roles are well-understood. Employees know exactly what to do, how, how well, with whom, when, and in what order. When necessary, they make decisions with confidence and without delay because they understand the objectives, options, and trade-offs, they have appropriate authority, and they know where to turn for additional information. In other words, they are Radically Clear. As a result, they are ultra productive. This is the region marked by the letter A on the graphic.
Now consider what happens outside that region. As you move away from production and into ‘The B Zone,’ clarity takes a dive! And with it goes productivity!
Uptime is 20%
If you ask non-production workers what portion of their average day is spent being Radically Clear–knowing exactly what needs to be done, following a proven method, and able to power forward with confidence and authority–the answer is likely to be one to two hours a day. That’s less than 25%! Companies that would never tolerate uptimes below 99% seem perfectly OK with 20% uptime for a humungous portion of their workforce!
Processes, goals, and roles become less and less clear
As you move away from production, processes are less and less clear. Take purchasing as an example. When it comes to ensuring a steady, just-in-time stream of frequently used parts, operations are smooth and efficient. Now consider a purchasing process slightly removed from production: supplier qualification. Poke around a bit and you’ll notice that the steps taken to ensure high-quality suppliers are not nearly as clear and consistent as those controlling the flow of critical parts.
A few more steps from production and you’ll find there are no processes at all. Consider the activities that consume most of The B Zone:
- Sitting in meetings and teleconferences
- Reading, writing, pondering, and responding to email
- Reviewing and reporting progress
- Planning and tracking
- Budgeting and setting goals
- Recovering from interruptions
- Tracking time and expenses
- Sitting in training classes, whether needed or not
- Second guessing, revisiting yesterday’s decision, going in circles with indecision
- Waiting for others
- Leaping to solutions
- Avoiding conflict
- Seeking buy-in
- Shuffling priorities and To Do lists
- Scrambling to fulfill vague requests such as “Please review” and “Look into this”
- Duplicating effort
- Pursuing consistency for the sake of consistency
- Getting ducks in a row so the real work can begin
- Tackling low hanging fruit to feel productive even if the fruits aren’t strategically important
- Handling employee problems
- Avoiding employee problems
- Pursuing greater employee engagement
- Traveling to and from meetings, whether down the hall or a plane ride or two away
- Interrupting themselves by checking email or social media, ordering something they just can’t live without a minute longer, and Googling answers to questions that keep popping into their heads
It should. This is how a large portion of your workforce is spending their time. And if you think that time is ultra productive, if you think the processes, objectives, and roles are clear, and if you think people are powering forward with Radical Clarity, you are kidding yourself.
The B Zone is eating your profits. The efficiency gap is swallowing them up. Your productivity improvement efforts–Lean manufacturing, new technology, and automation — have squeezed the A Zone to the max and are producing diminishing returns at best. Your employees are as lean and mean as they can get with many already covering for the guy who left a year ago and also doing their former boss’ job, thanks, or not, to a promotion.
The B Zone differs in many ways from the A Zone, but that doesn’t mean employees should be ultra productive for less than two hours a day. It’s time to bring Radical Clarity to The B Zone and enjoy the productivity and empowerment that comes with it!
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This article first appeared on Forbes, August 7th, 2017.