Business essential are the tasks that must be done in order that the business survives.
For example, payroll.
Every business must do payroll. But think about it, do customers care if you get paid or not? Not a whole lot.
Sure, some people might not want to do business with a company that underpays their employees. But ultimately, most customers don't care whether you get paid on a Monday or a Tuesday. Whether it's by bank deposit or cash. Whether you've received all your benefits or not.
When was the last time you purchased a product and asked yourself, "I wonder what the payroll practices of this company are?"
So payroll, unless you're a company that provides payroll services to other companies, no matter how good your company got at it, it won't make a diddly-squat of difference to market share.
Do not try to be world-class at Business Essential work
So it would be nonsensical for the people in your payroll department to try and build systems and processes that would make you the best in the world at payroll.
A better use of your resources would be either to outsource this as a department or get payroll done in-house with the minimum of effort, the most accuracy, and the most efficiency.
Get as much time and attention, as you can, of people performing Business Essential Work turned toward either supporting people doing competitive work,
Or doing things that make Business Essential work done right, cheaper, and faster. So then they can support Competitive Work
Then get your payroll team attuned to supporting the teams involved in the Competitive and the Competitive Enabling work.
Let's say for example, this payroll team was in a manufacturing environment.
Maybe they get their processes done quick and efficiently, and in the hours that they have spare, they go out into the factory and relieve the team members on their factory line. Thus enabling these production team members to come off the line and spend some time working on how to improve the effectiveness of their equipment or their processes or participating in some sort of problem solving project team.
Or maybe once payroll was done, they could turn their attention to looking at ways to improve cashflow or something like that.
Kmart/Walmart Customer Care - An Acceptable Level not Superior Level
Think back to the example we gave before of Walmart and Kmart. Customer care for them probably sits in Business Essential. They need to provide it.
But people don't go to Kmart or Walmart for their great customer care. They do expect it to be at an okay level. But customers shop there because it's cheap.
Whereas at Nordstrom's, if you are going to pay those prices as a customer, your expectation is for a much higher level of customer care.
Business Essential is important
Just get it done and
move on to competitive advantage work
So anything that sits in Business Essential area, we have to do it. It's important and we have to do it efficiently.
But that's all we need to do.
Get it done, and move on to anything that supports your company's competitive advantage.
Often things like invoicing or stock control sit in Business Essential.
Unless of course it is your competitive advantage. As, for example, Ikea, the big Swedish Furniture Store, stock control is their competitive advantage.
Now, to be clear, you would never outsource your competitive advantage or competitive enabling work. For example, Apple would never outsource design and innovation, but they do outsource manufacturing.
The key here is that with competitive and competitive enabling activities, you want to invest time in making sure that these are done exceptionally well.
With Business Essential and the fourth level of work Compliance, you just want to get them done efficiently.
Compliance is the sort of work that we have to do, which if we weren't being regulated, we possibly wouldn't do.
For example, regulations that the government has mandated. If they took that rule book away and you didn't have to do it from a business perspective, you'd probably stop doing it.
Business Essential and Compliance work has to be done right. Because if it isn't, it could put you out of business. But no matter good, you get at it, it won't gain you any market share.
Business Essential and Compliance work
can put you out of business if not done right
but it won't gain you marketshare
Turn Compliance work to your competitive advantage
However, having said that, decades ago I was working for one of the biggest mining companies in Australia. And their articulated goal was zero deaths, and if I recall accurately, it was less than a thousand injuries a year.
The reality was they were shooting for less than 10 deaths. And once that got out into the marketplace about how bad their safety was, there was an uproar and their stock price tumbled.
When you're in an industry like that where you could have a downside, for example, on your people or the environment, then you might move that from compliance into your competitive advantage.
Which is, eventually, and it took them a while, but eventually what that company did.
All work is important
To be clear, all work is important.
Payroll is important. Customer care, as in the Walmart example, is important. Your company couldn't function without these two activities.
In fact, in most companies, most people's roles are spent in Business Essential and Compliance work. And sometimes that's to be expected because it is kind of where the bulk of the work sits.
However, understanding that it is Business Essential or Compliance work suggests you don't put your limited resources, time and dollars into perfecting these areas.
Focus on reducing the cost of doing Business Essential/Compliance work
Your focus should be on reducing the cost of doing Business Essential or compliance work and getting it done efficiently.
Now finally, we have the work that often absorbs a lot of time in companies and it's Wasteful work.
These are the things that we shouldn't be doing. But people do! It's the stuff that fills in time and we should be getting rid of it.
Wasteful work, sometimes called Non-value Adding work is an activity that does not produce a tangible benefit to the customer or the business.
Non Value-Adding work can come in many forms, but the most common is unnecessary paperwork.
This includes filling out forms that don't really serve any purpose or duplicating work that's already been done.
Or getting invoices signed off by supervisors when, in fact the team member could be doing it. Taking people's focus off the tasks that make or save money for the company.
Tasks with no clear purpose/value
Other forms of non-value adding work includes, tasks that have no clear purpose or value.
Such as attending meetings that don't produce any results, and I'm sure you've had plenty of those.
Rework's another great example of non-value adding.
Now, and I'm sure you're not going to have to dig too hard to find lots of non-value adding work happening in your company.
Play Above The Line
For now, though, that's an overview of the five types of work.
And so no matter the role you find yourself in, you want to dedicate some time of your week to playing above the line. Working on:
Difference between value-adding and non-value adding
Remember, a value adding activity is something that the customer cares about. A non-value adding one is one that they don't.
In the image you can see the different ways that hostages, charmers, etc, might tackle the activity of purchasing office supplies. The reality is this is a business essential activity in most organizations.
Therefore, the end customer really doesn't care too much about your office supplies. However, there are a couple of nuances.
As you can see, the hostage isn't thinking about how to value add to his or her customer employer. Whereas when we move up to the rockstar quadrant, this person would be doing everything in the other three quadrants and then maybe going the next step.
Business Essential In One Company Is Competitive Advantage in Another
Let's say that they're working at Patagonia, who has a competitive advantage around sustainability.
Can you see how the rockstar now makes what is really a business essential task, but aligns his or her thinking (deep work) so that even that business essential supports the organisation's competitive advantage?
Whereas if the Rockstar wasn't working at Patagonia, they might just stop at the first point in the Rockstar quadrant.
You Can't Do Everything
Because here's the thing, you can't do everything.
What are you going to say a Big Yes to, A Small Yes to and Say No to?
What you are learning here is you just have to be clear about what to say yes to and what to say no to.
Or another way of thinking it is, what are you going to say a small yes to?
And what are you going to say a big yes to?
You can't say no entirely to emails, but you can put systems and practices in place that sort of slow down their impact.
For now, your action is, if you don't already know it, discover what your company's competitive advantage is, and then in context of that knowledge, ask yourself, how can I contribute to that?
And do make sure that your company isn't the equivalent of Kmart sending people down a chain of focusing on stuff that doesn't deliver their competitive advantage. Superior customer care is not Kmart's competitive advantage, and you'd not be given any prizes for helping them to excel at that.
What is your personal competitive advantage?
Then from a personal perspective, ask yourself, what is my competitive advantage?
What am I great at doing and how can I build on that?
For example, I'm really great, (at least I've been told, and I think I am) at coaching and inspiring people to higher levels of performance. Not, not so good at crunching budgets and developing strategic plans. I can do it. But it's not my expertise.
So I'm much better off fine tuning what I'm great at and then using those skills to support whatever business I'm working in to help them deliver their competitive advantage. And making sure the areas that I'm not so good at get covered. So that I don't derail my own and any business I'm working in, I don't derail our success.
Now, in the next little bit, we are going to turn our attention to how this model applies to how you are using your time.
And we are going to really get you focused on helping to make sure that you are delivering what the company needs, but also what fulfills you.
For now it is time to Take Action and download your Reflection Resource
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Here's an article about Steve Jobs and how he focused Apple on deciding what NOT to do