GTD in the Era of Economic Uncertainty

Contributed by Pat Smith, CEO of The David Allen Company. He has worked in the HR/OD/OE field for over twenty years, and is considered an expert in the field of organizational development, change management and leadership development. Pat can be reached at pat.smith at davidco dot com

In Leadership in the Era of Economic Uncertainty: The New Rules for Getting the Right Things Done in Difficult Times (McGraw-Hill), renowned management consultant Ram Charan offers executives a detailed guide to surviving the worst financial and business crisis since the Great Depression. The key, Charan says, is “management intensity”-deep immersion in the operational details of the business and the outside world, combined with hands-on involvement and follow-through.

Plans and progress must be revisited almost daily. Big-picture, strategic-level thinking cannot be abandoned, but every leader now must be involved, visible, and in daily communication with employees, customers, and suppliers. In this world, everyone needs detailed, up-to-date, and unfiltered information. And they have to act decisively when trouble looms. “If you don’t prepare for the worst,” says Charan, “you will put both your company and career at risk.”


Management Intensity and HR

HR has been pretty intensely consumed with issues related to talent management over the past decade. This has been largely as a response to economic and demographic factors. The economy has been booming (meaning a higher demand for skilled workers) and the birth rate has fallen (meaning a decreasing supply of them).

In response, many organizations have increased their focus on attraction, retention and development–to put it another way, getting the right people in the right seats and keeping them there.

Major initiatives such as career development, employee engagement and retention, workplace satisfaction, and mentoring have been widely implemented to support the achievement of talent management goals.

As I sit here in January 2009, however, recession once again dominates the business headlines, and in boardrooms across the country executives are meeting to discuss falling revenues and budget cuts.  Now comes a study from Leadership IQ, a training and research firm, which bears out the conventional wisdom. Three-quarters of layoff survivors say their productivity has declined while customer service has worsened. The survey also found that 69 percent of the remaining workers believe the quality of the company’s products or services has declined since the layoffs.

The company’s survey of 4,172 workers who kept their jobs after a layoff also found that an astonishing 64% of surviving workers say the productivity of their colleagues has also declined.

Getting the right people remains critical, but in the short term, hiring will decrease and employees will become more security-conscious and thus less eager to jump ship.  There will be a renewed focus on costs, and that includes salary costs—-specifically productivity per employee (be that in terms of revenue, profit or production units).

HR to the Rescue?
Inherent in the current economic condition is an opportunity for organizations (and HR in particular) to expand their focus beyond attraction and retention to also include productivity.

Now that the new economic reality has set in, leaders have an extraordinary opportunity to add new value to the enterprise by focusing on initiatives to increase productivity and efficiency in the midst of economic downturn.  In this case, that equates to what people do—and how they do it.

GTD as a Possible Solution
As the world’s leading skill set for personal and organizational productivity, one unique aspect of GTD is that it can be immediately applied to the current projects an individual is working on. For this reason, personal and organizational productivity can be immediately impacted. In our various GTD seminars, most of the work that participants work on is real world project work. This ensures that every participant departs fully enabled to immediately be more productive—both on the job and at home.

Another important aspect of GTD is its scalability.  In support of a company-wide productivity initiative, GTD’s productivity behaviors can be easily scaled across even a global multinational organization.  GTD is commonly mapped to an organization’s core competencies to ensure that productivity is systematically supported by the various HR systems.

Finally, a distinctive feature of GTD is the amazing residual benefit that participants experience in their personal lives. GTD offers the participant and the organization tremendous value – not only because of the improved quality of work life that often lasts for the rest of one’s career, but also because of the increase in personal satisfaction, stress-relief, and productivity that people practicing GTD experience.  For organizations, this translates to more productivity in troubled times as well as more satisfied employees.



2 Responses to “GTD in the Era of Economic Uncertainty”

  1. It is well-known that productivity goes down dramatically after layoffs –however I don’t think its a technical problem, to be met with a technical (new method, new protocol etc) solution. This drop in productivity is I believe (and I have some data to support this), the direct result of survivor guilt in those left behind, in those “surviving.” We did an experimental online study using a story where a successful manager is being advanced, in a time when the economy is settling into a recession and people are being laid off. In this story a second character, also a successful manager, is laid off.

    I can report here that the manager who remains feels weighted down with guilt, as if it was her fault that she remained while the second person lost her job. The feeling off survivor guilt was present even when the second character was someone who had been an unethical rival of the main character.

    The point here is that those left behind, those who survive the lay-offs and all the downsizing happening now, find it difficult to let themselves engage in work positively. It may be a good idea to introduce GTD but I would also get the word out that it is normal to feel survivor guilt in this situation, and that it is not their (the survivors) fault that people –some of whom they are close to, and some who are distant– lose their jobs. Helping the survivors realize this is perhaps the most important thing in returning to a higher level of productivity.

  2. Bernard says:

    Right to the point, Lynn. For some people work is family, so not getting laid off is like being the one that Sophie chose. Just saw this article on survivor guilt afrer I read your comment, so I came back to post.
    http://www.talentsmart.com/learn/online_whitepaper2.php?title=OVERCOMING_SURVIVORS2&page=1

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