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Why Your People Need Slack

Have you ever sat back and realized that all you do is work? Work work work. We literally have no free time to do anything but our core jobs. Especially in these times where things change from moment to moment. We are currently living through an exciting time in history – it’s a time when we need innovation more than ever, but I feel that we are pursuing the opposite.

The cycle repeats. When times are good, innovation is highly sought after. Whole departments are built to foster innovation – to build innovative products and services, spread a culture of innovation within organizations, and create profitable new businesses. It is a time of unbridled optimism – everything is going well – profits are good – so we can afford to apply some time and investment into these activities – much of the time considered non-core to the aims of the organization – which, if it is a for-profit organization – is to increase profits.

How do you increase profitability? There are only two avenues: lower costs or increase willingness-to-pay. Cutting costs is the easy one – it’s the first thing a new CEO does when coming into their role – they cut costs and show off a better bottom line. They drive their employees harder and harder, cutting staff, cutting programs, and doubling or even tripling up the work on the existing folks. This steals their time for activities that contribute more directly, immediately to the organization’s core mission.

But what happens then? What if you’ve cut our operations to the bone. There is no more to cut without putting your current profits at risk? Well, then you need to look at the other option; willingness to pay more. But, of course, by then, you’ve eliminated or greatly reduced any of the people who might be able to help you to increase your prospects and customers’ willingness to pay more.

So what do you do? First, you start by giving your employees some slack. Right now, they are working so hard that they do not have the time to devote to envisioning those new profitable businesses. Before long, you might lose them to another gig which gives them more slack, and you will lose forever the institutional knowledge which made them so valuable to your organization. These people are gold – and you need to keep them as long as you can – so you need to ease upon them.

Now is the time to staff up. Start identifying your most inventive employees and look for ways to ease their burden – hire them for some help. Give them free time to wonder, to make serendipitous juxtapositions, to make connections that they weren’t able to make because they were so heads down driving to your core goals.

It’s no secret that when you give your employees time to invent – they will. I firmly believe that if you give your people the slack time to envision profitable new businesses, they will. They are the best suited to know exactly how to develop new lines of business.

If you want to see a flood of profitable new business, give them the time they need to build it.

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