How often do you hear folks in your organization say things like, “There are never enough hours in the day” or, “I just have too much on my plate”? As learning professionals and leaders, how do you help employees be their most effective amid an organizational context characterized by moving targets, nonstop initiatives and limited resources? As you look to improve the capabilities of people within your organization, equip them with the tools and skills to navigate the never-ending influx of to-dos and requests with greater effectiveness.

Change the Mindset From “Volume” to “Value Add”

First and foremost, help employees make the critical mindset shift away from “just do more.” The faulty assumption is that constantly working harder and doing more leads to success, value or advancement. The reality is that employees risk staying on the hamster wheel of “doing,” with no guarantee of quality results. As a learning professional, you can help infuse the mindset of “just do more of the value add” so that folks remember that it’s not about the sheer amount and volume of what they do but the high-value results and contributions they deliver.

One way to encourage a value-add mindset throughout an organization is to create a culture that applauds key milestones and ensures that performance management and promotion processes reward work that adds value, not long hours.

Sort Yesses and Nos More Strategically

Help others to break the habit of automatically saying “yes” to every request that arrives in their inbox. Instead, help them learn to sort their responses into three categories:

The Strategic Yes

Some requests are of high strategic importance, either because someone of a higher authority or influence is making the ask or because the ask is tied to a key initiative. The reality is we don’t always have the leeway to say “no,” so help others build the muscle for accurately reading the situation, which may involve recognizing the organizational dynamics at play. In these cases, advise them to say “yes” but then optimize how they execute on the task so it doesn’t drain their energy.

The Partial Yes

Other requests are import but have “wiggle room” to negotiate how to be involved. Help employees recognize that in some cases, they don’t have to sign up for the whole project. Teach them to identify instances where they have the opportunity to become a thought partner to the requester. Sometimes, a manager or more senior person may ask for something that he or she has not thought through. If there is a better way to do it, employees can have a conversation that acknowledges the other person’s need but helps result in a better solution.

It’s Not Their Yes

Help employees identify situations that are not theirs to “own” and that don’t need to become their responsibility. Look for places where leaders in your organization may be rescuing, enabling or taking on extra work for an underperformer on the team; in the end, it will compromise their performance as well. Questions you can ask the leader include:

  • Is it time to have a difficult performance discussion?
  • Is it time to invest in a development plan or coaching for this person?
  • Is it time to let this person go?

Improve the Ability to Respond With Clarity and Respect

Many people are inherently uncomfortable with being in conflict with others. This discomfort can sometimes lead to challenges when it comes to responding to tough requests with clarity and respect, especially if the answer is “no.”

Remind employees that negotiating with a colleague doesn’t necessarily mean they have to turn down that person. They can always make their goodwill clear by saying things like, “I appreciate your thinking of me for this opportunity” or, “I hear your sense of urgency on this.”

Then, after they acknowledge the person and his or her need, they can decline the request with respect, sharing what they are able to do and under what conditions or offering alternatives. For example, they could say, “Given what you are trying to solve, it’s best to speak to Henry, on my team, who’s closer to that issue. You’ll have a speedier outcome by going to him.”

Ultimately, as a learning professional and leader, you can help to bring out the best in others by helping them focus on “value add” rather than “volume,” more strategically assess requests and improve their ability to respond to others.