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Efficient laziness


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Premise: The key to success is delegating and outsourcing, not doing everything yourself.

Laziness and efficient laziness are not the same. A lazy person really does not want to do any work whereas an efficient lazy person seeks to finish an assignment by delegating much of the workload. In order to do be able to delegate effectively, however, a considerably effort must be allocated to planning, preparation and execution and that, in my opinion, is what efficient laziness is all about.

When I engage in projects, the first issue on my agenda is to clearly define what the client wants to do, how he or she prefers to do it, and what elements are critical for project success. Instead of attempting to do everything myself, I outsource nearly 90% to professional firms and individuals that I trust will deliver satisfactory results. Understanding what is needed and who can deliver it is basically what I do. This approach increases the service level to the client for multiple reasons:

  • Instead of engaging tasks sequentially, they are engaged in parallel which shortens time to market and begins to generate client revenue faster.
  • Placing too much on one plate can create burn-out and fatigue while outsourcing spreads the workload more evenly, thereby reducing the risk of error or misjudgment.
  • Through outsourcing or delegation, responsibility is shared which means that instead of the entire weight of the project being on the consultant’s shoulders, he or she can leverage that against other professionals in charge of specific tasks (the consultant is still ultimately responsible for the project outcome but it is far easier to supervise and audit the work of others rather than do everything personally).

I usually deal with the planning stages concentrated on opening up new market territories for clients. In order to determine the investment required and the ROI, concrete quantitative and qualitative data has to be complied. While I could do this myself, it would mean that the time-to-market would extend which results in time lost. Therefore, when engaging in strategic planning, I prefer to subcontract those elements so that I can fully focus on how to position the client in the territory with minimal risk. In like manner, I am often on the other end as other consultants outsource marketing strategies here while they concentrate on the client overall business strategy. Keeping things focused works in the favor of the client and gets the job done faster and more efficiently than if one and the same consultant attempts to do everything. Micromanagement is not what the consultant should engage in for two main reasons:

  • It isolates the consultant from other, skilled professionals and contracts the network.
  • It puts the consultant under too much pressure that can lead to confusion and even project collapse.
  • It prevents the consultant from building a real consulting business as micromanagement usually results in a sole operation.

Many consultants attempt to do it all and few if any really succeed. Some even end up hospitalized as a result of over-exhaustion and stress. In my opinion, a consultant that cannot effectively manage own operation efficiently cannot help clients achieve a similar objective as they fail to grasp the importance of delegation and efficient task allocation. A strategic consultant effectively provides CEO support and as such is not supposed to perform individual tasks covered in the strategic outline anymore than the CEO does. Instead, his or her role is to ensure that the job gets done properly, is delivered on time and meets objectives; it is all about managing the workflow, not to drown in it.

Failing to delegate and utilize the vast resources available through professional firms and individuals renders the consultant unfit to undertake strategic projects as he or she will be bogged down by mundane tasks. We have all heard about CEOs that micromanage and the effect this has on employee turnover. Many consultants fall victim to that and I find it counterproductive. There are only so many hours in a day and they have to be leveraged. Trusting those we work with is essential and I prefer to handpick the best teams available.

As usual, this is my approach to the consulting business that some may not agree to. It does work for me and my clients, however, and therefore I wanted to share it.  I have always been fond of delegation as it helps we take on more and larger projects faster while maintaining a lean operation. For some that may not work; for others it will. It depends on the context. I would greatly appreciate feedback.

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the pingback; your article brings to mind Sweden back in the 70s and 80s where the workforce basically went on welfare and an entire generation forgot how to work.

  2. […] Efficient laziness (icestat.wordpress.com) […]

  3. Thanks for sharing the other side of delegation; many useful tips there. Managing large projects is like building a shopping mall; someone has to coordinate activities or things will fall apart. That is basically the concept in this case we we are working on some fairly large projects that require experts of various disciplines to complete specific tasks. So far, this experimental model is working quite well. My role in all of this is to keep communication flow going, ensure that everything is on track and that the big picture is coming together as intended. That is a full-time job and without efficient delegation would be impossible. Over-delegating is a risk for those that have not clearly defined own role and those of others and, as a result, take on projects they are not ideally suited for nor have a capabilities of engaging with.

    This blog is entirely about self-reflection and it is good to get contrary views and opinions and they contribute to the overall learning experience and help fine-tune the internal structure.

  4. Anna MH says:

    An intriguing article but I wonder how to implement this in real life. I work with large pharma companies who like consultants and admittedly have a lot of money to spend, but I just don’t see this easily accepted by my clients. It would necessarily mean 1) a major project budget increase for clients (if you want to keep your personal profitability) 2) additional admin for me (sensitive projects mean confidentiality agreements, contracts etc with ‘subcontractors’) and 3) I am not sure that my clients would want 5 extra people they don’t know working on their brands. So intellectually I am convinced that it is a nice thing to do and I am sure other people do this but I have seriously not cracked it for my own business. Enjoy!

  5. Hi Anna and thanks for the comments. It seems that I could have done a better job of getting how this works clearly across. Let me make an attempt to respond to each of your points and the concerns raised. (1) The scope of the project determines the budget and properly defining the the project itself is critically important. The better project requirements are understood, the easier it is to map out what needs to be done, in what sequence and by who. My article was intended to highlight the fact that consultants sometimes attempt to do too much which places the client at risk of the project exceeding budget or time constraints. A project I managed for a bank had a tight deadline – improving overall efficiency in their online banking environment and supervising a rebuild of existing platform – and would have been impossible without a 9-person team, 7 of which consisted of bank personnel (and therefore had no impact on the project budget; actually it lowered client cost while having 0 effect on my own profitability). (2) My teams (mostly on subcontractor status to preserve our lean structure and flexibility) is bound by same confidentiality as that used in banking. All work in highly sensitive areas such as defense, pharma, finance, health care and government. We do thorough background screening before involving a subcontractor. Managing teams is my primary objective, which means that most of my work is allocated to ensuring delivery and highest quality. That is what I call ‘efficient laziness’ as it may appear to be detached from actual work but is really the motor that keeps everything well-oiled and on track. (3) The extra people are introduced to the client well in advance; basically once we have nailed down the basic project outline and need to go deeper. I handle marketing aspects and efficiency-related processes, but when it comes down to legal, computer science and financial engineering, I obtain permission from the client to sent out a brief summary to trusted resources that, if they are interested, are brought to a meeting with the client. Closing note: With this type of structure in place, we can take on more projects across a broader arena and disciplines than would otherwise be possible. Thanks for your comment; greatly appreciated! Have I managed to communicate clearer this time around or have I raised another batch of questions?

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