Monday / April 22

Working Harder vs. Working Smarter: Is Fake Work Keeping You From Real Work?

Navigating the Chaos—Hope is Changing Fake Work into Real Work.

Coming out of the chaos of the last two years, educators are spinning. Now is the time to find common purpose, to align teams to work, and to ensure every team member is working on the right stuff. The bottom line: by replacing Fake Work with Real Work, a sense of hope starts to form, which is essential to regain focus and to transcend the many burdens we are battling.

Working long and working hard must seem like the inevitable fate of educators everywhere.  Long lists of demands and needs pile up accompanied by the constant shuffling of “To-Do” lists, shifting priorities, and endless distractions from every faction and every stakeholder around you—everything and everyone stealing your time.

You Cannot Afford to Do Fake Work. 

We define Fake Work as work that isn’t directly linked to strategies. This isn’t about all the hard work people are doing, but the long, hard work they are doing that is not critical to the organization’s success. Real Work is doing critical work— working on priorities that drive strategic purpose. Real Work is doing the right work at the right time by bringing clarity, determining direction, and constraining tasks to the essential ones.

Focusing on real work is hopeful because being clear about both what to say “YES” to and what to say “NO” to is freeing and critical for success and sanity. Hope is the backbone required for solving problems, moving forward, and changing attitudes.

Working longer and harder is usually not the answer to anything. Slogging through the day with the deadweight of Fake Work is a terrible assault on your sense of value, and you end up questioning your purpose and intent. Simply, 50% of ALL work is Fake Work. Here are two of 30 statistics that say the same thing over and over again:  too many people aren’t sure what they even need to focus on:

  1. 73% of workers don’t think their organization’s goals are translated into specific work they can execute.
  2. 70% of workers don’t routinely plan how to support agreed-upon goals and tasks in their workgroups.
  3. 81% of workers do not feel a strong level of commitment to their organization’s strategies and goals.
  4. 87% of workers are not satisfied with the results of their work at the end of most weeks.

These statistics have been validated in education, in every industry, and for government. The fact is that we expect people will reject them as too high, but always reject them as too low. Educators know that too much of what they are doing or asked to do is Fake Work  They know: the goal must be to ensure we are working on what matters—doing the right work at the right time.

Three Simple Steps Toward Real Work.

Real Work is the incentive for leaders to focus, clarify, and define essential work. Educators need to pull all the raw energy from the distractions of the pandemic back into focus.

We use a simple model like this one below that illustrates a critical chain of events that organizations must understand and adhere to ensure work isn’t Fake Work—by driving strategies into daily work.

1. Be proactive by being strategic.

Everyone needs to know where the center is—the unifying purpose. In our book, Stop Fake Work in Education, we share a letter from Dr. Robert Duron, a former superintendent of schools in Texas, for his staff at the beginning of the school year. The central metaphor is “Standing on the X.” In simple terms, he tries to bring everything to one focal point—the “X” on the stage—where students pick up their diplomas.  His expectation: ensure that every task has a clear line-of-sight to that “X” on the stage. It’s dramatic. It’s beautiful. It’s the penultimate articulation of a strategic mission statement—a statement of common purpose.

When I started working with Dr. Duron and his staff, I loved this starting point, but we agreed that we had to get off that lofty theme, and we created objectives that would target the critical work to accomplish that mission. Then, we defined strategies or tactics for each objective, which provided a common set of expectations.

2. Align all your teams by articulating Real Work.

The next task requires that each team member create a list of “critical” Real Work tasks and narrow them down to 4-6. Holding on to more tasks means all tasks are watered down or forgotten. Being overwhelmed doesn’t help anything.

This is a collaborative and team-based process where people:

  • Discuss their tasks and agree on them.
  • Prioritize tasks and eliminate less essential ones.
  • Cut or share tasks that duplicate others’ tasks.
  • Find ways to help each other succeed.

This team-based process will energize people, encourage collaboration, and minimize distractions.

3. Execute by doing the right work at the right time.

Execute just means to do what you committed to do. It requires that team members:

  • Focus on the priority tasks.
  • Define all the action items for each task.
  • Help others and collaborate constantly.
  • Commit to and meet deadlines.

Let Real Work Help You Refocus, Reenergize, and Rebuild Your Hope.

I’m seldom accused of being a Pollyanna. I don’t shy away from the complexity of problems, and I work to find clarity to solve them. So, I don’t think working through the Strategy>Alignment>Execution process is simple. But, it’s a simple concept with basic steps and a clear process. I don’t think hope comes easily in the onslaught of demands educators are struggling with, but hope is critical to create the desire to clear out the clutter and get on track. And doing Real Work is essential for both the short-term and long-term needs of every educational institution to get centered, get focused, and find a path to success.

Ultimately, it’s all about students “Standing on the X” and what they need us to do to help them get there.

Written by

Gaylan W. Nielson, CEO, The Work itself Group, is the author of Stop Fake Work in Education: Creating Real Work Cultures That Drive Student SuccessFind additional resources from the book’s website:

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