Authors and Consultants | GP Strategies Corporation


How to Really Work Smarter, Not Harder

12We have all heard it at one time or another: the old adage “work smarter, not harder.” But what does that really mean?  What about all that “nose to the grindstone stuff?” Or that early bird that gets the worm? And why are workweeks getting longer and longer in the face of all that time-saving technology we keep buying?

It turns out the old adage was right, but not in the way it was usually meant. When people said it, they were usually saying you were doing things the wrong way. Or, more commonly, that you weren’t doing things the way they would do them. But what if you aren’t doing the right things at all? Then doing those wrong things in a smarter way certainly isn’t going to produce better results. Instead, you’ll just produce those same wrong things faster and more efficiently. And maybe even produce more of them!

They key is to look at work from a completely different perspective. If you will, a quarter turn in thinking.

People bring their own characteristics, experiences, skills and knowledge to bear in their work. They apply all those things to do the work set before them to the best of their ability. They work hard, they work smart and they try to do a good job. But all of that work, in reality, has no value in and of itself. Think about that for a minute: work has no value. Before you get too angry, let’s finish the thought. The results of work have value, but work doesn’t. Work is a cost. Hiring people with lots of skills, experience and the right characteristics is also a cost. It is only when people put those attributes to use in doing the right work the right way to produce results that matter is there any value in the equation.

So if what we really want are the results of the work, doesn’t it follow that working harder or smarter will naturally produce more valuable results? No. And that is where the quarter turn in thinking comes in.

Instead of starting at the work end or, even worse, the skills and knowledge end, of the equation, we should start at the valuable end: the results that people produce. We call those results outcomes. Outcomes are the tangible things that organizations value after the work is done. Outcomes could be physical things like cars that run right after repair work is finished, or smartphone apps that people can buy and use. Or they could be more cognitive things like a trusted advisor relationship with a client or a customer satisfied with a resolved issue. Whatever the case, the most important challenge is to uncover those few outcomes that really make a difference. Once those right outcomes are clearly understood for any job, then it’s possible to analyze them to figure out the right way to produce them. That’s when the adage kicks in and working smarter becomes important.

A quick example from the real world. Most organizations have a role called Project Manager. They are the people who balance cost, schedule and resources to produce something or manage some process. Virtually all project management courses spend a lot of time on communications: how often to provide status updates, how to document issues, etc. But with all that time spent on learning how to communicate to customers, why are customers still so frustrated at the end of projects? It turns out the best project managers don’t focus on communicating. Instead they focus on producing aligned and managed customer expectations. In that context of producing a thing called aligned and managed customer expectations, all of their communications tactics now serve a common purpose and can be channeled to best advantage. Communicating is a cost, but aligned customer expectations has value.

The bottom line: work smarter to produce the right things.



Photo credit:  Image courtesy of Steve Horder at


Detour on the Road to Knowledge-Based Learning

11While recently staying in central London, I asked the hotel concierge about calling a taxi for a 5:00 a.m. departure to the airport. The conversation was simple and short.

“Yes, sir, we can hail a taxi for you in the morning.”

“How much should I expect the taxi fare to be?”

“About 90 or 95 pounds. Or I can call you a car, and it will only cost you 55 pounds,” he added with just a hint of hesitation.

“If you can assure me that the car will be here at 5:00 a.m., I’ll take that option.”

“Yes, sir. He will be here. I’ll book it for you. What’s your room number?”

The following morning I was met by an enterprising young man who greeted me at the door with a warm hello and smile, took my bag to his car, and quickly launched us on our journey to Heathrow.

As we passed some streets that were new to me despite many previous trips to the airport, I glanced up at my driver, who had just touched the screen on the global positioning system (GPS) mounted in the corner of his windshield. A few moments later he changed course to follow the spoken and visual suggestion of the GPS system he was obviously following.

As the young driver continued to navigate the relatively quiet streets of early-morning London, my mind drifted back to my first trip to the city nearly ten years earlier. In the preparations for my visit I ran across a story about the grueling studies required of aspiring taxi drivers to qualify for one of the scarce taxi licenses available. The London taxi driver exam is legendary, in fact, according to a recent article by Jody Rosen:

“The examination to become a London cabby is possibly the most difficult test in the world — demanding years of study to memorize the labyrinthine city’s 25,000 streets and any business or landmark on them.”

The comparison was stark. Years of dedicated study and testing had been replaced by a three-by-five-inch electronic gadget mounted on the windshield. This change meant my driver was focused not on memorizing the challenging street grid of London, but rather on timely arrival at the hotel, a pleasant greeting, and safe driving following the electronic voice of his “taxi tutor.”

To put it bluntly, the very knowledge that had been the linchpin of a profession a few short years earlier was made obsolete by ubiquitous access to guided information through an inexpensive navigation gadget. This fact raises several important and highly relevant questions for those of us in the learning business.

Just how important are programs designed to impart raw knowledge, product knowledge, or procedural knowledge?

What technological aids are available to help bridge the knowledge gap?

And if pure memorization of knowledge is no longer as relevant in job performance, what is important?

What are the differentiators, the elements that really matter to create high levels of performance in jobs, particularly in customer-facing jobs, today?

How do we uncover what drives performance and business results in today’s dynamic work environment?



Photo Credit: Image courtesy of Richard Hedrick at


Buy The New Game Changers