From Firefighters to Farmers: Cultivating a High-Performing Team and Reclaiming Your Time

Recently, numerous executives have voiced grievances to us, expressing profound fatigue in leading their teams daily, attributing the challenge to the perceived indolence of their subordinates. What measures should be taken?

In light of this prevalent issue, we intend to conduct a comprehensive exploration today, aspiring that our insights will prove beneficial to you.

01 Managers Transmuting into Firefighters

Three years prior, we encountered a notable case involving a catering establishment in the Pearl River Delta. The manager, who ascended from the ranks of a humble waiter, initially perceived the role as unburdensome.

However, as the establishment expanded, employing over 10 waitstaff, the manager’s role metamorphosed into that of a “firefighter.” Responsibilities included intervening in kitchen predicaments, addressing cashier issues, and attending to customer needs. Upon inquiry, it became apparent that the recruitment of additional staff not only failed to alleviate the workload but exacerbated it. The staff, while present in the store, exhibited leisurely comportment and idleness.

In a similar vein, consider a manufacturing company where the proprietor, overseeing a workforce of more than 150 for over a decade, attributed the company’s stunted growth to the perceived irresponsibility of employees at various hierarchical levels. The ordinary employees, according to the proprietor, lacked diligence and accountability, leaving him devoid of trustworthy personnel. One might ponder, can he be faulted for experiencing weariness?

If you find yourself entangled in such a predicament as a manager, it may be tempting to attribute the issue solely to the caliber of employees recruited. However, our observations suggest a different perspective.

What engenders this phenomenon? We dissect the causative factors from four vantage points.

02 Tribulations Encountered by Firefighters

1. Distrust in Subordinates and Reluctance to Acknowledge Subordinate Mistakes

Many managers harbor an innate distrust of their subordinates, often rooted in past experiences. This lack of trust compels managers to assume an overly hands-on approach, issuing myriad instructions and reports, shunning transparency in their actions, and exercising excessive caution. Even highly remunerated employees find themselves unable to unleash their potential within the organization.

For managers who mistrust their employees, fatigue is predominantly mental rather than physical. The apprehension that more tasks equate to a higher probability of errors prompts employees to minimize their efforts, leaving the burden squarely on the shoulders of managers.

2. Inaptitude in Management and Understanding of Human Nature

Managers of this ilk prioritize “managing tasks” over “managing hearts.” Yet, tasks are accomplished by individuals, and a myopic focus on task outcomes, neglecting the emotional states of those executing the tasks, leads to transient results.

Inability to adeptly navigate “mind management” results in an inability to align employees’ emotions and states, failure to acknowledge their inherent self-interest, and reliance on a self-centered managerial approach. Such organizations witness ephemeral vitality when viewed through a communal lens.

3. Proficiency Accompanied by a Disbelief in the Efficacy of Team Leadership

Individuals reaching the pinnacle of their professional acumen can efficiently resolve issues independently. However, propelling an enterprise towards growth necessitates effective management. Failure to recognize the indispensability of a team and the need for enhanced management capabilities, coupled with an inclination to prefer individual efforts, diminishes execution capabilities in the face of a burgeoning workforce.

Ultimately, managers discover that the recruitment of numerous individuals proves futile, and personal endeavors overshadow collaborative efforts. From the perspective of these managers, management is perceived as a process where 1+1 falls short of 1, rather than surpassing 2, culminating in inevitable exhaustion.

4. Absence of Managerial Responsibility and Apprehension of Bearing Subordinate Failures

Managers characterized by this mindset, when assigning tasks to employees, primarily dwell on potential subpar outcomes. The fear of failure ingrained in their psyche stems from the belief that failure begets pain and disappointment.

Exemplary managers, in contrast, encourage employees to confront failure courageously, fostering an environment where failure is viewed as an opportunity for growth rather than a cause for reprimand. The reluctance of such managers to assume responsibility engenders busyness, compromises performance, and impedes organizational development.

Given these four considerations, what strategies can managers employ to alleviate fatigue and rectify the situation?

Here, I encapsulate it in four words – embrace the art of indolence!

Note that in this context, “learning to be lazy” doesn’t imply cultivating actual laziness but rather adopting a strategic and methodical approach to laziness.

03 Embrace Indolence and Liberating Oneself from the “Firefighter” Predicament

This strategy comprises two primary facets – the operational level and the human level.

1. Categorize Tasks and Prioritize Important but Non-urgent Ones

Employ the well-known “four quadrants” method to categorize tasks based on importance and urgency. This categorization yields four quadrants: urgent and important, important but not urgent, urgent but not important, and neither urgent nor important.

Historically, managers devolved into “firefighters” by predominantly engaging in tasks falling within the realms of urgent and important or urgent and unimportant. Addressing important but non-urgent tasks proactively can prevent the escalation of urgent and important matters, averting unnecessary pressure on managers.

Examples include long-term strategic planning, departmental process and system development, company training system establishment, and risk control system implementation.

Neglecting these crucial aspects leads to the proliferation of urgent and important matters, exerting escalating pressure on managers and rendering them ill-equipped to navigate crises.

This distinction delineates efficient managers from their traditionally inefficient counterparts. My recommendation is for managers to allocate 80% of their focus to activities in this quadrant, thereby diminishing the perpetual fuss over “urgent” matters in the first quadrant.

Additionally, tasks falling within the other two quadrants, whether urgent or not, are deemed unimportant and should be delegated to subordinates.

2. Categorize and Focus on Cultivating Subordinates

Segment personnel capabilities into four quadrants based on values and abilities. Managers should invest their limited energy in cultivating individuals with the greatest potential to maximize organizational effectiveness.

The quadrants are defined by the congruence of values and abilities: gold for consistent values and strong abilities, rust for inconsistent values and weak abilities, iron for consistent values and weak abilities, and scrap metal for inconsistent values and strong abilities.

Managers need not allocate substantial time to cultivate every employee across all departments. Optimal organizational efficacy is achievable only when managers concentrate their efforts on cultivating individuals deemed worthy of investment.

The classification of employees in the four quadrants prompts tailored solutions:
1. Dismiss individuals with inconsistent values and poor abilities decisively.
2. Invest in training for individuals with consistent values but poor abilities, under the supervision of managers.
3. Allocate energy to warn and guide individuals with incongruent values but strong abilities, reserving termination as a last resort after repeated warnings.
4. Fully empower individuals with consistent values and strong abilities, with managers maintaining control over essential boundaries.

It is imperative to emphasize that, for exemplary managers to achieve this level of effectiveness, rigorous adherence to a discerning recruitment system is indispensable. Managers should scrutinize not only the technical competencies but also the soft skills, values, and qualities of job seekers during the recruitment process.

Human resources practitioners advocate for competency-based talent selection, with values being a critical component of the competency model. Inadequate evaluation of values during recruitment can lead to discordant values within the organization, fostering internal conflicts, impeding performance, and ensnaring managers in perpetual inefficiency.

The prerequisite for “learning to be lazy” is managers’ proficiency in recruiting suitable individuals and assigning them judiciously within the organization.

Final Synthesis

The judicious practice of “indolence” by managers reflects a higher intelligence quotient, manifesting in the adept management of a competent workforce. Effective managers display a willingness to delegate, invest in training, and extend trust to employees, fostering a culture of accountability. Whether present or absent, the organization continues to function seamlessly, alleviating the managerial workload.

Managers experiencing undue fatigue are encouraged to introspect, assessing whether they inadvertently obstruct the company’s growth, harbor a reluctance to delegate, or have eroded the trust of their subordinates. In conclusion, I extend my best wishes to every manager, aspiring for them to find reprieve amid their bustling responsibilities and ultimately triumph in their personal and professional lives with enduring value!

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