Multitasking’s Pygmalion Payback
Multitasking not only undermines our output by half and increases errors by 50% it also establishes an enduring expectation of frustration. Once employees are acclimated to the idea that the “appearance of being overloaded is expected” then we are well attuned to finding our place in the pack. We quickly adapt to “our part”. It is a part our primitive predecessors perfected* we do as others do and soon believe as others believe. If we are to be absolutely honest and incredibly unlikable our mission might read
“Popularity before Productivity“.
We maintain the image of industry (as opposed to actual productivity) to satisfy bosses or to appear to conform to our coworkers. Eventually we begin to believe that activity is actually preferable to output. Managers are highly helpful in reinforcing the importance of appearance and adherence and it does not take long before they cement the lesson that the “status quo” is rightly so. This acting overloaded (look busy here comes the boss) soon becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. When we act in a certain way long enough pretty soon we forget we are acting. This drama of duress so popular in our culture, if we don’t bemoan the injustice we are not ever considered a part of “us”. Sadly our desire to belong evolves into an attention SET on what’s wrong. I am not suggesting that there is not injustice in the world or times when we are overloaded but, if we always tune our attention to dis-ease and dissension then that is all we will see (and create) in our world.
Think about it for just a moment don’t people love to share their tales of “too much to do and too little time”. The more stories they tell the more overburdened realities they create. We don’t even notice that when we “change the channel”, like the day before vacation, our experience is altered completely. What would have previously required a week’s worth of whining is now reduced to hours of excited intensity.
Great leaders have the ability to reverse these impossibly-overloaded-expectations into an irresistibly-energized-realizations. Steve Jobs was one of those people and was often described as having the ability to create a “reality distortion field”. He helped people believe in his vision so strongly that THEY NO LONGER HAD TO PUSH TO GET THROUGH BUT WERE PULLED BY WHAT THEY KNEW. Daniel Goleman in Primal Leadership described this fundamental responsibility of managers as the ability to “prime good feeling in those they lead”. See the Hot Dog Story Video
Changing a culture afflicted with anger, disengaged by distraction or entrenched in obsolescence does not come from the top down or outside in. Direct attacks on deeply ingrained delusions are futile. The answer comes from finding and supporting “Positive Deviants” within the organization and using their example to break through the barriers of believing that tasks are impossibly overwhelming to rediscover the abundance of our abilities.
This solution cannot be implemented from the top down, outside in or even inside out without assistance. People are overworked in large part because they believe they are overworked. Any peer with the audacity to suggest, or worse yet demonstrate, alternate possibilities will quickly have their “obviously overworked” club membership irreversibly revoked. The penalty for “disturbing the delusions” may be administered by “persons in power” but the highest penalty to be paid will come from those paid by the hour.
What defines our abilities is not found in the realm of possibilities but the congruence of our communities. Work performance has little to do with top down expectations and everything to do with our peer powered demonstrations.
We can mock our managers and ignore the experts but we cannot avoid the examples set by our peers.
Those are people who with the same resources just do better.
You might expect that these shining stars would be admired and included but, left unsupported, these “Champions of Change” will be abhorred and excluded. All of this will be culturally condoned as it is far easier to condemn others than it is to change ourselves.
Ideas in action:
Awareness is always the most important and frequently overlooked step in the change process. The purpose of all the “Change the Buzz” characters throughout my writing and training is to embed the importance of bee-ing before doing. Awareness before action. Highly successful people and organizations are more effective bee-cause they are more aware. Share this article with your team and start a real conversation. It is doubtful anyone will “break ranks” at first. It is far easier to be unhappily overworked than it is to be happily under included.
Don’t give up. Conversation is the key to innovation.
Changing your organizational buzz from irritating to invigorating requires addressing both awareness and architecture. You can’t motivate people if you are simultaneously agitating them through antiquated policies of command and control.
If you interested in attracting, engaging and retaining the best
give command and control a rest.
Employees in every organization want systems that are:
- Consistently Collaborative
Join the conversation in the new Peer Powered Performance™ LinkedIn group.
*Studies of baboon troops show that members will look to the alpha for feedback as to their position every 20 to 30 seconds. Good Boss, Bad Boss: How to Be the Best… and Learn from the Worst By Robert I. Sutton