Monday, December 3, 2012
Either-Or or When-What
I’d like to share part of a recent interview in the New York Times with Sandra L. Kurtzig, chairwoman and C.E.O. of Kenandy, a software management firm based in Redwood City, California. The interview was conducted by Adam Bryant:
“I don’t over-hire. The reason is that you can get a lot more work done with fewer people. If you have a lot of people, you have to give them something to do, and you have to give them something to manage, and then you have to manage them. You can get a lot less done. So you want to have a core set of people while you’re really trying to discover your product, your direction, your market. And the more people you have, the more difficult it is to take risks because it affects a lot more people.” so states Sandra Kurtzig.
Kurtzig puts to practice the principles of focus, effective collaboration, and adding by subtracting. Could her lean-hiring practice and it’s positive effects be similar to the wondrous situation of you and I often (but certainly not in every situation) getting quite a few more things done when we have little time? I attribute this effectiveness under time pressure to increased focus, a good sense of urgency, and cutting through the clutter and thus prioritizing. The more time we have, the more we tend to linger, allow distractions, and divert from the core activity.
The other side of the coin, of course, is pausing, stepping back, reflecting, and re-thinking which often requires time and is hard when under time pressure. The magic is probably in the mix. The magic, as usual, is in knowing when to choose which approach and for what reason. It’s not so much an either-or as a when-what situation, which, in the case of Kurtzig, would require flexible teams with varying numbers of team members in response to what the company or department is facing.
Research studying effectiveness under time pressure such as the ones conducted in the mid 80s of the previous century by Payne, Betmann, and Johnson have shown that people adapt to time pressure by first accelerating their speed of processing, and if that’s not enough, by increasing the selectivity of processing. As usual, there are experiments and research studies that have found opposing results. My take away from it all is that we need to be very aware of the dynamics behind our effectiveness (or the lack thereof), whether it be in decision making or anything else. We need to be aware of how and on what we spend our time, with what results and due to which dynamics. We gain when we understand our own idiosyncrasies, allergies and pitfalls. We gain when we and our colleagues understand under which conditions we operate best, individually and as members of a team. Do you?
The interview used in this post is called Don’t Chase Everything That Shines and was placed in the NY Times on December 1st.