Working Smarter vs. Working Harder LO30172

From: Fred Nickols (
Date: 05/14/03

Responding to Jeff Miller in LO30161 --

>I'm in need of a good article or two that does a nice job of illustrating
>the concept of working harder vs. working smarter. Without bogging you
>down with too much detail, I'm currently working with a group that thinks
>pushing an already maxxed out staff will bring a windfall of results...
>(sound familiar?).
>I can see what's happening, but I'm struggling to successfully communicate
>this to the "overseers" just how counter-productive this approach is.

Hmm. Been there, tried to do that, failed. The distinction you're trying
to make for the "overseers" is between the level or amount of energy
expended (working harder) and the efficiency and effectiveness of a given
energy expenditure (working smarter). They will grasp that distinction
right away; indeed, they probably already know it. Moreover, they have
long been told by all manner of management gurus and pundits that they
should concentrate on finding ways of working smarter instead of working
harder. In other words, that message is not new to them.

Further, finding ways of working smarter almost always entails involving
and listening to the people who actually do the work and, based upon what
is learned, changing the way things are done. This, in turn, amounts to
acknowledging the power of the workers and admitting that management is
not all-knowing or all-powerful. Many managers cannot bring themselves to
do this, even implicitly. Instead, they husband to themselves all power
and authority. Pressed, they push harder. Even when ways of working
smarter can be realized without the awkwardness of worker involvement and
participation, many managers will still push people to work harder. Why?
Because getting people to work smarter AND work harder has more immediate
economic value and that is what management is all about: near-term
economic value.

I think you are in the awkward position of trying to persuade a group of
managers (the "overseers") that they are taking a wrong-headed approach.
Even if you win, I fear you will lose. Instead of trying to dissuade them
from their approach, I would counsel you to look for ways of helping them
achieve their goal. (This is a form of what I call "organizational
jiu-jitsu," that is, picking them up where they are and using their own
energy and inclinations to move matters forward.) From what you say
above, their goal or intended outcome is improved performance or
productivity of some kind. That seems a legitimate aim. Further, their
analysis, no matter how flawed, points them toward exerting pressure for
people to work harder (either through demands, quotas, incentives or other
means). In your shoes, I'd want to know why they think pushing people to
work harder will succeed. I suspect they believe that the current
economic climate is such that most people fear for their jobs and that
there is no risk of driving them out the door. In short, the "overseers"
can push people to work harder because people cannot push back.
"Resistance is futile" goes the saying. And, of course, it's much easier
and simpler to push people to work harder than it is to find new, more
effective, more efficient ways of doing the work.

The bottom line of this post is that I think you, the "overseers" and the
"already maxxed out staff" are all better served if you take the position
of encouraging the "overseers" to find ways of working smarter IN ADDITION
to their already chosen course of action of pressing people to work
smarter. [?? harder ?? -Host]. I think trying persuade them to focus on
working smarter INSTEAD of working harder will not meet with much success.

Hope this helps.


Fred Nickols
Distance Consulting


Fred Nickols <>

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