It’s time to start working smarter, not just harder

The business realities that
have followed in the wake
of the veritable worldwide
economic meltdown during the
past six months desperately call
for action and dramatic changes
in the way we do business. It
can no longer be business as
usual. The need is immediate
for a review and rewrite, if necessary, of every company’s play-book and standard operating
procedures. The era of unfettered growth fueled by an abundance of available capital has
come to a screeching halt.

Lavish perks, such as jets,
opulent retreats and extravagant company events, are now
not only politically unacceptable
but also fiscally imprudent. The
same applies to the practice of
analysis to the point of paralysis, the expense of redundant
layers of management and
the luxury of an expansive
support staff. Business
excesses in any form or fashion have gone the way of yesteryear’s three-martini lunches
and smoke-filled rooms.

New rules dictated by sobering economic realities require
every business to get by with
less staff, less cushion and, yes,
less money. All managers must
take a refresher course in how
to “do it once, do it right.”
Thoroughness and thoughtfulness have become the underpinnings in this new school of
business. Superfluous actions
must be replaced with an
increased emphasis on efficiency, effectiveness, and the elimination of roadblocking and
laborious bureaucracy. Time
wasters, both functions and
people, must be avoided.

Every CEO, owner and senior
manager must lead by example.
No longer can it be, “Do as I say,
not as I do.” Success will be
measured by results achieved in
days, weeks and months, rather
than the traditional long-term,
five-year plan for every major

Wasted motion is management’s new enemy. Time not
spent on accomplishing specific
objectives can lead to a disastrous detour. Leadership must
have time to think and act.
Distractions must be avoided
like a money-borrowing, long-lost, deadbeat relative.

Communications to all constituents must be clear and
underscored by facts and reality.
Businesses need less talk and
more meaningful actions and
results. As an example today,
the average executive receives
more than 100 e-mails a day and
spends more than eight hours a
week on electronic communications. New definitions must be
established as to what “keeping
me in the loop” really means. As
a leader, do you really need to
know every painful detail of
what’s happening with all of
your direct reports? Descending
into minutiae will take you
away from strategizing.

Alternative methods of communication need to be reintroduced, such as the unique
practice of requiring team
members to actually talk to
each other rather than texting
one another from a next-door
office or cubicle.

Today, more so than ever, time
means money and must be coveted like one of the most precious assets on your balance
sheet. If the clock stops ticking
and you run out of time, you
most likely will run out of
money eventually.

Empower your key people to
make decisions to keep moving
forward. Teach people to think
twice before sending an e-mail
or placing a phone call by asking themselves, “What is it I
want to report, and is it just nice
or is the information really necessary? Will the initial message
require another follow-up communication in the next few
hours or days?” Before they hit
the send button, train your team
to ensure that the message is
complete and includes the who,
what, why, where, when and
sometimes how of the subject
matter. There is nothing worse
than receiving an e-mail that is
incomplete, which then requires
an e-mail reply asking for clarification. Make it a rule that if
your people send you a message, it must be informative and
actionable, not just an FYI that
has morphed into a CYA.

Discipline your organization
to set predetermined follow-up
dates on everything of importance. Everyone in the organization must know that if a deadline is going to be missed, he or
she must inform the pertinent
parties before the clock strikes
12. It’s not just a matter of common courtesy; it is about saving
extraneous effort. As these new
standards are communicated
and processes begin to permeate
the organization, you’ll find everyone becoming more focused
and much more goal- and task-oriented. Working smarter, not
just harder, must be integral to
your organization’s strategy.

In these unprecedented times,
it’s not perspiration, it’s performance that counts.

MICHAEL FEUER co-founded OfficeMax in 1988 with a friend and partner. Starting with one store during a 16-year span, Feuer, as CEO, grew the company to almost 1,000 stores worldwide, with annual
sales approximating $5 billion before selling this retail giant for almost $1.5 billion in 2003 to Boise
Cascade Corp. Feuer immediately launched another start-up, Max-Ventures, a retail/consumer products
venture capital operating and consulting firm headquartered in suburban Cleveland, Ohio. Feuer serves
on a number of corporate and philanthropic boards and is a frequent speaker on business, marketing and
building entrepreneurial enterprises. Reach him with comments at [email protected].

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