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Gary Cole



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The cost of procrastination


In some ways, as a supplier, I still consider myself a relative newbie to the HR and L&D circuit. With that said, I’ve been a client and internal key stakeholder for many years so can, I believe, offer a beneficial perspective on a widespread malaise common in dealing with HR Professionals – PROCRASTINATION – with some possible tips/advice to avoid it.

One of my favourite books of the moment is called “Fully Charged”, by Vogel & Bruch, which essentially covers the en vogue topic of managing energy to optimum effect. To spare you reading it, I can tell you the major headline is that businesses and teams operating with optimum energy perform +14% better than those with average energy or average attitudinal application. That’s an awful lot of performance on a company bottom line and that's before we even start talking about the powerful soft benefits.

In fact, that’s a whole lot of positive change & performance you are potentially denying your organisation.

So can any of you help me understand why the sales process takes so damn long, dealing with you HR types?! Maybe I am demonstrating some naive frustration from my previous life in the fast paced media industry. Or maybe many HR Professionals could benefit from making sounder and quicker decisions and commence training and coaching delivery significantly quicker. I can tell you now that if a marketing professional identified a +14% swing in campaign performance, they would drop everything else and focus on this in a heartbeat.

That’s the positive spin on the avoidance of procrastination, so what about the actual cost of indulging in it?  It’s an interesting question and one I think we all would intuitively accept comes at a cost; but it can be surprisingly eye watering when you look at some basic financial calculations. 

The cost of indulging in procrastination

Here is some simple arithmetic based on 252 working days in a calendar year, with an individual earning £30,000 per annum (therefore earning nearly £14.85 per hour): if they indulge in procrastination one hour per working day, this will cost the business an estimated £3472 per annum (based on 2020 working hours per working calendar year). So if there are 10 of them in the team, this quickly becomes £34,720.  There are a few ways we can interpret this basic figure; on one level this could represent a small team for whom you are the HR Business Partner support or potentially it could even represent the HR or L&D team within which you currently operate. Essentially the question you need to ask yourself is at what tipping point does your collective indecisiveness become greater than the value of the budget you are working with? This can be a real wake up call for some HR professionals and a useful reference check for the status of your current projects.

The real question of broader concern is whether you think the basic calculation of five hours per 40 hour week of priority dilution, creative avoidance or decision dodging is too light or too high. Let’s expand on these distraction devils in a little more detail and you can decide whether they apply to you or not.     

Priority dilution

A good place to start is with priority dilution, which is essentially the extent to which you are truly able to focus on the essential and eliminate (or delegate) the rest. According to the US time-management guru Brian Tracey, workers spend almost 50% of their time on work items that are not essential. The cause of this is often the ‘to do’ list, or any kind of list or system without relative priority flags and those which cannot be re-sorted regularly. They do not work because our brains routinely gravitate to the easiest and most attractive item instead of doing the ‘worst, first’. A good habit adopted by many effective managers and leaders is to carve out three to five ‘weekly achievements’ on a Monday am and come hell, high water or unexpected distractions – you ruthlessly deliver on these items before you leave for the weekend.  Your to do list is an unnecessary crutch and it stops you from focusing on the truly essential tasks.

Creative avoidance

This leads us onto creative avoidance, which is essentially the extent to which you are operating within your comfort zone. Or put another way, going through the motions or doing just enough. A simple litmus test for this is to think of a real life workplace role model and to rhetorically challenge yourself if you think this person would apply himself or herself in a different way. Don’t stop there; it’s also worth challenging yourself if someone with a different personality type to you would apply himself or herself in a different way too. If the silent answers you receive indicate there might be an improvement or a positive refinement in a way you are applying yourself, then you are clearly suffering from creative avoidance. In the ‘Fully Charged’ book, this type of energy in the workplace is referred to as corrosive. So for me, it’s a classic case of pushing yourself to operate in your stretch zone whenever you can, because this is when the fun and interesting things happen.

Decision dodging

And lastly we have decision dodging, which I’m hoping does not require too much explanation. Suffice to say that as HR Professionals, you are often placed at the heart of an internal stakeholder matrix. So it is incumbent on you to exert a range of influential skills to deliver (and focus on) what the organisation needs. Far too often, the operating relationship with the ‘internal client’ can be slightly unbalanced, leaving you at the mercy of the demands of their day job. If there are multiple stakeholders, this situation can quickly worsen. All of which can contribute to decisions taking far too long to reach. My best advice is twofold; adopt a project management mentality which will give you a higher degree of control and secondly always ‘start with the end in mind’, continuously (and if need be repeatedly) reinforcing the business benefits and rationale for doing the task in hand. And always stick to agreed deadlines and milestone windows.

Procrastination can easily take up 10-15 hours per week by the aforementioned inactivity – and if that happens the cost to the business can rocket past £10,000 per annum/per person very easily. Just multiple this by the size of your team or the teams you support; are your eyes watering yet?! All professionals in the business world indulge in procrastination to some extent, not just HR types. So this cost applies to almost every individual who does not apply daily time management & focused business planning/delivery techniques. With that said, not all business professionals hold the keys to initiating and facilitating business change, personal development and driving a performance culture in an organisation – but HR Professionals do!

With the glass half empty, you can see how the cost of procrastination can really add up. It is probably the biggest undetected and unmeasured cost in business today.  With the glass half full, we all accept that outstanding coaching and training solutions can have a significant positive impact on a business.  

The benefits of killing procrastination

Many who make these speedy decisions are able to benefit from outstanding short-term gains, which can then be developed and managed post-training – therefore boosting and enhancing long-term change.  We have other clients that tie themselves in knots about the various solutions and options available and then seem to struggle at influencing and engaging internal stakeholders as a result of it. It's a chalk and cheese situation, so ask yourself which camp you sit in and what you can do about it …? 

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Gary Cole


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