A positive, action-oriented “can-do” culture should lead to unmitigated productivity. However, it does not. Trying to do too much leads many people to accomplish less.

A “can-do” culture grows out of the understandable choice that some organizations make to focus on visible effort as the leading indicator of real achievement. It stems from the mistaken assumption that increased effort always leads to better results.

Here are some of the characteristic beliefs in this culture:

  • Being a good team player means always saying yes
  • Everyone must continuously be “on call”
  • People do their best work under pressure
  • We can always “pull the rabbit out of the hat”
  • Failure is never acceptable

People in “can-do” cultures do work hard, but their effort does not always lead to better or more sustainable results. Our research indicates that many managers spend more than 50% of their time firefighting, sitting in frequent unproductive meetings, redoing other people’s work, revisiting the same problems over and over, managing customer complaints, trying to recover from losses of key personnel, and regularly working nights and weekends.

These managers also report that they do not have enough time to fulfill their most important responsibilities, including:

  • Driving a limited number of priorities
  • Leading product and process innovation
  • Developing new business
  • Developing their own people
This is a serious problem. The “can-do” culture results in many painful ironies such as:
  1. People do more but do not necessarily accomplish more.
  2. By trying to move too quickly on too many initiatives, organizations slow down work on their most important projects.
  3. By using time-saving devices to take advantage of continuous online accessibility, people have less time and are less available than ever before.
  4. Rewarding firefighting leads to more fires.

What can you do to reduce the costs of organizational overload and increase people’s ability to sustain energy and focus on their top priorities? What alternative to a “can-do” culture increases performance and productivity in sustainable ways? How can you shift the culture and behavior of your organization to achieve these results?

Read our upcoming blog on “Increasing Performance by Decreasing Organizational Overload” which will appear in September 2012.