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June 30, 2022

3 steps managers can take to help their team 'work smarter, not just harder'

Daily Briefing
    Editor's note: This popular story from the Daily Briefing's archives was republished on Dec. 6, 2022.

    Employees often waste valuable time and energy working on less significant tasks—but managers can take steps to ensure team members are prioritizing the most important things. Writing for the Harvard Business Review, Mita Mallick, head of inclusion, equity, and impact at Carta, offers three ways managers can help their team members "work smarter, not just harder."

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    1. Outline clear objectives and deadlines for projects

    When Adam Bickoff, a broker associate at Compass, is planning for the sale of a home, he sets a timeline with his clients based on the day they want to list their house on the market. Then, he clearly outlines key milestones his team must complete to meet the client's deadline. For each milestone, he assigns the approximate number of hours it will take to complete.

    "We are working with a number of clients on buying and selling homes at once, and so every hour counts, not just for us, but also for our clients. We have no choice but to work smart," Bickoff said.

    According to Mallick, Bickoff's process can be applied to projects across multiple industries outside of real estate.

    "Leaders should help their team members up front by setting clear end dates for large initiatives, assigning approximate hours for key project milestones, and coaching them if they're spending too much time on a specific task," Mallick writes. "When any one team member spends hours working on the wrong thing, it can have a ripple effect on the rest of the initiative and impact key deliverables."

    2. Help your team stop chasing perfection

    Studies have shown that the pursuit of perfection can backfire, potentially sabotaging success at work and ultimately leading to burnout and health problems. Notably, burnout remains a key contributing factor that drives employees to leave their jobs. However, according to Mallick, managers can help retain talent by coaching their team members to stop trying to be perfect.

    "As leaders, let's be vulnerable about our own journeys when it comes to perfectionism. Let's share how we prioritize and focus on working smart on the things that matter and making business impact," Mallick writes.

    Instead of chasing perfection, Mallick urges leaders to "[e]ncourage team members to set timers for smaller tasks," reinforcing the idea that it is okay to make mistakes, and remembering "that sometimes done is better than perfect."

    3. Help team members make connections across the organization

    "Our job as leaders is to help connect the dots for our team members across the organization," said Sonali Pai, chief marketing officer of Lisap Milano USA.

    According to Pai, leaders must coach their teams to ask for help when they need it. In some cases, Pai suggests that managers even ask for help on behalf of their team members and make introductions across their organization.

    "As leaders, we must be organizationally aware of the work happening in other departments and what overlaps with and can be additive to the initiatives we're leading," Mallick writes. "We can then collectively be working on the right things on behalf of the organization."

    When a team is "working smarter, and not harder," they will be better able to see the impact they are making on the organization, Mallick writes. "Ensuring our teams feel that their contributions matter is one of the biggest retention tools we have to continue to develop and retain our talent," she adds. (Mallick, Harvard Business Review, 7/28)

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