Activity isn’t accomplishment

published by the Nashville Business Journal

Activity—doing stuff—is not and never will be a form of accomplishment. I learned that over the years, but never so clearly as one evening when I was in charge of a 20-person, front-end retail operation. As the store was closing, I pitched in to help load paper bags at the checkouts. About five minutes into this task, the store manager put his big hand on my shoulder and discreetly pulled me aside. 

He pointed to three young guys sitting on checkout #20 laughing and joking. He explained that I had been given the opportunity to lead, not just work. He challenged me to think of myself as an orchestra leader who has to get all the different personalities to play a lot of different instruments to achieve a pleasant tune. I realized right then that my job was leading, not accomplishing individual tasks. That night I became a true delegator—one of the skills that helped me most in my career.

Busy may not be constructive
Leadership is a learned art. And before we recognize its nuances, many of us fall back on trying to “busy” ourselves in effort to look productive, but these menial or misguided tasks rarely produce real results or change. If at the end of the day you can’t effectively pinpoint your accomplishments as a leader over the activity you engaged in, you may want to reassess your allocation of time.

Here’s a scenario about telling the difference. Let’s assume you are the manager of a Tractor Supply store. At 6 p.m. on day one you look back and note that you helped unload a truck, stocked shelves in the pet food area and recorded low-inventory items in the tool section. You worked with a number of customers and actually sold a $2,500 tractor. You have certainly done a lot of work, but the activities are primarily tasks of a standard salesperson, so your management accomplishments are minimal. 

On day two you take a different approach. You start by setting clear work assignments; post and discuss the day’s sales goals; and verbally recognize everyone who has worked toward achieving those objectives. Next you study current profit data and take action based on those indicators. If sales in a particular category have been declining recently you study the data, review the merchandise presentation, talk with the right sales people to ascertain the reason and put in place a plan to reverse the decline. Later you set aside 30 minutes to work with your newest team members on the company’s mission and values. At the end of the day you see that you guided people in achieving goals, initiated a data-driven solution to address a sales issue and helped coach new employees. This is real management accomplishment. 

At the end of every workday take stock of your accomplishments. If you do this regularly, you will quickly ascertain the difference between activity and accomplishment. And, trust me, you will want more of the latter. 

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