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Get Results, Not Smoke and Ashes

Little fires everywhere. It’s not just the title of a fantastic Celeste Ng novel, it’s the frantic and exhausting pace of so many work environments. Why do we let it get this way?

All work is motivated by incentives. Some are positive: finish early, take a break; do a great job, win a client. Some are negative: miss a deadline, have to work late; get outbid, lose the gig. Even the smallest daily task has an incentive behind it.

Consider Daniel Pink’s work on the perfect timing for work. In When: The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing, Pink argues that individuals have specific times of day when they are most creative, most productive, best able to focus, and most likely to need rest. And -- spoiler alert -- they’re not the same for everyone.

That means an overly responsive work environment - one driven by the urgency of deadlines - is a chaotic place and managers are in a constant state of agitation waiting for the next fire. As well equipped as managers are to extinguish the flames, living with little fires everywhere will burn a manager out.

Three symptoms that your work environment more closely resembles the Fire Swamp:

  1. The phrase “on the back burner” is your prioritization go-to rationale.

  2. You’ve been late to a meeting more than once because you were “putting out fires.”

  3. When asked about the progress on a long-term project, your team responds with GIFs of dumpster fires.

There’s a popping sound before each one, we can avoid those. (Princess Bride anyone?)

Why are you dodging flame bursts? Is it because deadlines are being missed? Work isn’t happening until it’s right-on-time? People are being incentivized to wait until they absolutely have to do the work?

Anyone ever tell you they do better work at the last minute? Fire that person.

Projects have plans so that milestones can be met and interdependent work can be done fluidly. If your work environment has people waiting on others to complete their tasks, causing friction and urgency, your manager hasn’t organized the work properly. And you haven’t incentivized people to work ahead.

Remote work compounds the little fires everywhere problem because managers feel disengaged from contributors. They’re not sure what’s being done or when. They might set milestones too far apart and have no status updates for several days or even weeks. They might not know each step the process needs and feel like they’re hovering when they ask for updates. Or, they might disagree with the pace the contributor is using to finish the work and want to micro-manage the completion of every affiliated task.

Are you incentivizing your managers to babysit? Are you allowing your people to need a babysitter?

Redesign Work is about reviewing the units of work each contributor is responsible for and creating a management schedule that comfortably provides transparency and incentivises task completion. You want results from your workforce, not smoke, ashes, and survival stories.

Need some help? Adopt Redesign Work to 1) manage remote employees, 2) organize your workforce into productive units, 3) infuse autonomy and accountability into your workforce. Learn more by emailing

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