Managing employee’s time : between criticality and beauty contest

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Summary : the question of time management and task prioritization will become essential in networked organization where autonomy is expected to increase and intrapreneurship emerge. Being the subject of many requests, employees will have to arbitrate…but according to what ? Because of a lack of reflection on that matter, there’s only one emerging way : the marketing of internal needs relying on gamification. Not very satisfying but that’s the only possible one as long as we refuse to work on resource allocation in emerging organizations.

Time and attention are the two scarce resources organizations will have to optimise the use in the upcoming years.

It has become clear that, even more than time, attention is the scarce resource. That’s why, having to face an increasing amount of information and signals being sent to employees (what is something we can’t change), organizations are beginning to think in terms of personal or social BI rather than trying to manage quantity. That’s why communication departments are thinking (but too slowly) of a new paradigm and the switch form exploiting available brain time (quantitative approach) to social targeting (qualitative approach).

But attention is not the only thing at stake. Once the the signal or the message received, one has to act. What takes time. If it’s only to read a message it may only need a very little time (but if it happens often the global amount may be impressive)…but if it’s to undertake any kind of action, the amount of time consumed will be very significant. The point here is that most of time the action in question is not on people’s roadmap and that their managers often expect them to use their time for something else.

As a matter of fact in the smart, networked and agile organization that enterprises are trying to build, employees aren’t specialized productive isolated elements anymore but assets, talents that can be mobilized when needed. The whole being beneficial for both the enterprise (better need/talent alignment) and employees (self-fulfillment, recognition, usefulness) so we can expect talents to be over-appealed so they’ll have to hiearchize and prioritize to decide what they’ll do. And since, obviously, everyone requesting the help of a talent will want his task to be on the top the list. This principle applies to both over-the-flow requests (message in a bottle send to a network or a community) and in-the-flow ones (tasks having to be done by a team but with agile and flexible assignment).

One of the last trendy thing in the social stuff, gamification, may be used to solve this problem. As said in this article on gamification and motivation :

The accessibility of information on the Internet and the ability to gather and share information has increased significantly over the past five years,” she said. “Also, you’re competing with other activities that a user might be able to do. How can you make your activity more appealing than other activities?:

So, in a consumer web context…why not. But, in the workplace, making choices that impact resource allocation (nothing less…) rely on what is nothing more than a beauty contest makes very little sense.

I’m not saying that making an activity appealing is not good. In fact that can be good for anything, even when resource allocation is not at stake. On the other hand, some activities will always be less appealing than others, because of their nature. So should we accept that no one will ever handle them anymore ? Even worse, there are critical activities that, whether appealing or not, playful or not, will have to be done willingly (better) or not.

Letting people in charge of activities spend (lose ?) their time to make them more appealing to register to a beauty contest, make people think than an effective and harmonious balance will emerge between personal marketing and activity marketing and that anyone will do only thing he’ll enjoy while nothing will be left undone is misleading and deceiving. And, in some ways, dangerous.

I know that when facing the risk of an unproductive status quo, it may be tempting to propose an idyllic future and hide the problem under the carpet, considering it’s no use mentioning them before they actually appear. But experience shows that leaders that are supposed to hear and understand such discourses don’t find such attitude reassuring. It’s even the contrary.

Through this example we can see a matter that’s totally overlooked : resource allocation in tomorrow’s organizations as we expect them to be. Neither rigid and counterproductive as today since it’s a major barrier to collaboration, transverse activities, innovations etc… nor free and spontaneous as on the web.  Even if things will improve with time, I’m not sure we can move forward without some preliminary reflection. It’s an challenge that impacts organization, management and even accounting and no invisible hand will solve things by magic. But, obviously, no one cares of it at all.