Hard Work (or, Tell Me Something I Don’t Know)

It seems that everyone today is “working hard.”  In the marketplace – “We’re working hard to serve you better.”  In management – “With hard work, anything is possible.”  In education – “Our first graders are working hard this year to learn how to add numbers.”

Weren’t computers supposed to make our lives easier?  Why are we still working hard?

Truth be told – we’re really not.

In the 1960’s it was predicted that computers would eventually cut the 40 hour work week down to 22 hours.  Most hard-working people who heard of that statistic thought things would become easier as technology moved forward.  Unfortunately, the reality is that 1 person can now do the work of 2 or more people.  Just watch the movie, “Hidden Figures.”  The “computers” at that time were people.  They were replaced by a large IBM computer (as we know the term today) so they had to learn to become the people who programmed the new computers.

The promise of efficiency has led to the expectation of productivity.

So, why are we surprised when technology’s continued advancement changes the status quo, no matter how hard some folks try to maintain it?  Take, for example, the sales or development professional.  There are five places where such a person needs to be:

  • In front of customers or donors
  • On the phone with customers or donors
  • Traveling to meetings with customers or donors
  • Doing follow-up or administrative work relating to customers or donors
  • In the office for meetings with on-site personnel and/or management

Note that 80% of the job can happen “outside” the office space.  Most of it today does.  So, why is it surprising to people who students, who have technology at their fingertips today with the ability to access research that used to only be housed in libraries, learn in a whole new way, and will be put into a workplace that is constantly changing?  Why do administrators still want to have schools that have classrooms of age-appropriate students learning particular subject matter at particular times?

It’s because that’s how performance can be currently measured.

When business leaders are formulating goals, it’s important that those goals be “measurable.”  There needs to be a standard or benchmark against which performance can be measured.

But let’s look at that sales or development person.

If their target is $100,000 in new revenue, would anyone be upset if that goal was exceeded, and $500,000 was achieved?  Certainly not!

The problem is that the $500,000 anomaly sets the new expectation.  Similarly, the $50,000 achievement would be considered to be a failure, regardless of changing market conditions.  Therefore, it’s important that workers show they’re “working hard” to achieve those goals.

Or at least say it.

Of course it’s hard.  If it was easy, everyone would do it.  What merit would there be in not overcoming obstacles?

The problem lies in motivation.  What motivates someone to work “hard,” rather than just “work.”  If you’re doing 23 projects at once, or if you’re presented with goals to achieve that are mutually exclusive from each other, no matter how “hard” you work, goals cannot be met.  If there are logical reasons why something cannot be done, the key is either deal with or remove the obstacles in the way.

And sometimes, removing the obstacle is the “hard” work  that no one’s willing to do.