T.N.T. (There's No Time): The Sad and Dangerous Workplace Mindset
I had a chance to meet-up with Paul again last week about another issue that’s sweeping his workplace. He talked about TNT, and he wasn’t referring to dynamite (though the way he described it sounded like he was)!
Me: [About to sit down] Ah, Paul! Good to see you again! How’s the coffee today?
Paul: It’s OK… I always come here when I have a lot on my mind [vigorously stirring his coffee].
Me: I see you’ve ordered an ice coffee today… with lots of ice cubes!
Paul: Coffee…on the rocks!
Me: Anyway, what's bothering you?
Paul: Yes - it's TNT. It’s happening all the time – especially in the office.
Me: [Clearing my throat] …TNT? Hmmm, you mean Trinitrotoluene or the TV station network?
Paul: Huh? No, I mean TNT. It means, "There's No Time".
Me: Oh... that TNT!
Paul: Do you know what it means when people keep saying it? They “TNT” meetings; TNT brainstorming sessions; TNT chances to improve; they work late hours and still they TNT.… they even TNT their kids!
Me: Yes, I’ve heard of this. Everyone’s so busy they forget about the things that matter the most.
Paul: Exactly…like quality. The other day, Cheryl, our quality manager said that we keep repeating the same issues over and over again. It seems that after a root cause analysis, documents weren’t being quality controlled…and do you know the reason why?
Me: Let me guess, TNT?
Paul: Yes! I spoke to Helena in HR… she said a record number of employees are taking sick leave this year. I think it’s because of all the hours they do.
Me: Actually, sounds like the too much Working IN and not enough Working ON syndrome.
Paul: In…On? What?
Me: Ah, we teach this concept in our leadership and communications program. One of the things we talk about is IN vs ON. Working IN is like a trap: It’s when we are always busy doing things such as working in projects, dealing with customers, accounting, delivering products, etc. These are the things that bring-in almost immediate money and it’s what many companies prioritize. That’s why there is a tendency to push people to work IN.
Paul: Oh…and ON?
Me: When you work ON, you are making time to develop strategy, expand your business, improving quality, morale, ways of working, etc. These are tasks that are often seen as “overhead costs”, but help your business to grow, avoid costly problems, build relationships, etc. As a result, they are often not prioritized because they are considered “overhead” and many people don’t always see the direct impacts on business.
Paul: So you mean it’s like when a painter starts a business and then spends all his time painting instead of trying to develop business or trying to understand why he has to go back all the time to repaint.
Me: Yes, exactly. I haven’t even mentioned training… What tends to happen when we don’t strike the right balance between working ON and working IN is that at some point, business suffers, or people suffer, or both.
Paul: That’s what Cheryl was pointing-out. She was saying we need to change the “mindset”.
Me: …and the people who always TNT are the ones who are unintentionally creating that mindset. Whether it’s because that’s the way they’re used to or because of unrealistic time expectations placed on them, or...
Paul: …Right! So how do you make people work ON more and start creating that culture?
Me: One way is to help people realize what’s important in their lives. Stephen R. Covey talks about pouring different sized rocks into a jug.
Paul: What rocks?
Me: It's a lesson to teach people to prioritize the big rocks, such as family, health, kids...
Paul: Rocks... [pauses, then stares into his almost finished coffee - only ice cubes/rocks remaining…]. Oh, I see!