This year is a leap year. Here is a great idea for what to do with that extra day on February 29, from Hope International:
This year is a leap year. Here is a great idea for what to do with that extra day on February 29, from Hope International:
You often hear people say “hire slow, and fire fast.” Further, firing quickly is often presented as a “loving” thing to do, because then the person is freed up to pursue what might be a better fit.
This advice needs to be fired. It has problems on both sides of the equation. For one thing, there are times when you should actually hire fast. But more than that, saying that one should fire fast ignores very important distinctions that can lead to very bad decisions and harm to both the person and organization.
The distinction is between firing due to ability issues and character issues.
If someone is abusive, causing harm in the organization, and acting against the values, then firing needs to happen fast.
But when the problem is ability issues — that is, the person wants to do good work but is struggling — then you fire slow. The aim is, in fact, not to have to fire at all. Instead, you discuss the issue with the person and coach them as much as possible to help overcome the ability issue.
If it cannot be overcome, and a change to a different role that is a better fit is not possible, then letting them go may be the right course of action. But only after defining the problem and helping the person overcome it.
Joseph Grenny, author of four New York Times bestsellers, including Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When the Stakes Are High, explains this very simply in this two-minute video from the Global Leadership Summit.
Much (but not all!) productivity literature places way too much focus on efficiency. The default thinking of many seems to be that one of our main goals in any task should be to get it done as quickly as possible with as little waste as possible.
This works well with machines. But it is problematic when it comes to people, because prioritizing efficiency when humans are involved often results in diminishing beauty, quality, and discovery. (For one example, see Patrick Lencioni’s great article “The Enemy of Innovation and Creativity” which is, you guessed it, efficiency.) Efficiency has its place, but it is secondary to effectiveness and quality.
This productivity principle relates to apologetics, or the defense of the faith. Sometimes skeptics look at the universe and the way God created things and critique it on the basis that it’s not maximally efficient.
These thinkers are guilty of over-prioritizing efficiency. For God is far more like an artist than an engineer.
I love how William Lane Craig puts this at his site Reasonable Faith, in response to the question “Does the Vastness of the Universe Support Naturalism?“:
Sometimes people complain that a vast cosmos is a waste of space and so would impugn God’s efficiency as a Creator and Designer. But here I’m persuaded by Thomas Morris’ point that efficiency is a value only for someone who has limited time and/or resources, a condition which is just inapplicable to God.
That’s why I think that those pressing the efficiency objection are just wrong in thinking of God in terms of an engineer marshaling his resources rather than as an artist, who enjoys splashing His cosmic canvas with dazzling colors and creations.
I am in awe as I look at the galactic and cosmic structures photographed by the Hubble telescope. The vastness and beauty of the universe speak to me of God’s majestic greatness and His marvelous condescension in loving and caring about us.
As with God, so also with us. Care about efficiency. But care about beauty and service most of all.
Generosity. My post today at The Gospel Coalition.
Remember the Intangibles
The tendency to focus only on immediate, directly measurable results is a common productivity fallacy for individuals and organizations.
Way back in 1982 Tom Peters and Robert Waterman termed this “the numerative bias,” and gave example after example of how a narrow concern for numbers leads managers and leaders to overlook the things that really make their products and services shine—and thus leads them to do things to “cut costs” and increase the bottom line that actually end up undermining their results in the long-term.
This is the great irony: defining productivity mainly in terms of immediate measurable results actually undermines the measurable results in the long-run.
The time and energy and resources you invest in the intangibles is not lost; it is not a “cost of doing business.” It’s an investment that pays substantial returns in the long run. It’s just that you can’t always draw a direct and immediate line to the results. But the results are there, and the connection is there, just as the farmer who sows a crop in the spring sees results—not immediately, but in the fall, when it’s time to harvest.
We too need to have this longterm view when it comes to our effectiveness and productivity, both as individuals and as organizations.
One example here for the knowledge worker is attending conferences or industry events. I believe that all knowledge workers should go to every conference they can because these are prime opportunities to connect with people, benefit from excellent teachers, and share ideas—essential to knowledge work. But many think that going to a conference is a luxury or bonus, something to do only if you can get your other, “real” work done.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Going to conferences is a key part of the work of any leader and manager. It is one of the many intangibles at the heart of knowledge work in our day.
Adapted from What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done. See also Tom Peters and Robert Waterman’s In Search of Excellence, especially chapter 6, “Close to the Customer,” where they note that high performing companies are “mainly oriented toward the value, rather than the cost, side of the profitability equation,” and chapter 2, “The Rational Model.” See also my article, Against Over-professionalism in Management: Managing for the Human Side
“What’s best next” is both a statement and a question (and it’s a productivity tip in and of itself).
“What’s best next” is first of all a statement about that which is best next, which is doing the will of the Lord.
What is the Lord’s will in our daily work? We know that ultimately what Jesus wants from us is love (Matthew 22:37-40), so that’s always what’s best next. All of our productivity needs to be grounded in love—first, in terms of our motives (seeking the good of others) but also in terms of how we make decisions at all.
This is often overlooked: love isn’t just our motive in what we do, it’s also a guiding principle by which we decide what to do. What is best for the other person? That’s the question love asks, and it’s the guiding principle of true productivity. We don’t make choices based on what’s best for ourselves next, we make the welfare of others the motive and criterion for deciding what to do.
And so “what’s best next” is also a question we can use to help guide us. We can’t do everything that might possibly be next. We need to do what’s best next. A core principle for getting things done is to do what’s most important first. So when you have a thousand things to do, slow down and ask “what’s best next?” Then do that. Likewise, don’t do what’s easiest next; do what’s best next.
“What’s best next?” is a question you can continually use to guide your daily work.
What Does God Want Done?
Good works. What God wants done are good works.
We see this right in Matthew 5:16, where Jesus sums up for us the entire purpose of our lives: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”
That is the purpose of the Christian life summed up for us in one sentence. The entire purpose of our lives—what God wants from us—is to do good for others, to the glory of God.
We also see this in one of the most important passages on productivity in the Bible—Ephesians 2:8-10: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing: it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
Likewise, Titus 2:14 tells us that Jesus “gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” And Jesus says in John 15:16, “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.”
Being Fruitful in Good Works
Hence, good works are part of the purpose of our salvation. In one sense we have been doubly created for good works. God created us to do good works, as we see in the creation mandate in Genesis, and here we see that we are also re-created in Christ to do good works.
Productive things, then, are things that do good. Productivity always has to be understood in relation to a goal, and God’s goal is that we do good works.
Hence, we can define productivity in this way: to be productive is to be fruitful in good works.
As Christians, we are called to engage the culture, not retreat from it. In order to do this effectively (and winsomely, avoiding spiritual weirdness), we need to understand how to develop a Christian worldview.
Philip Graham Ryken’s booklet What is the Christian Worldview is the best short read on how to do this. It outlines the four basic components of the Christian worldview—creation, fall, redemption, and restoration—and shows how they apply to every area of life.
This book gives a good basis for understanding the framework for thinking Christianly about anything, so that you can then apply the framework to your own specific callings.
Is it possible to have a Christian view of productivity? Is it even wise?
If we’re going to think of our productivity explicitly in relation to God, we need to answer this question. There’s no use trying to develop solutions to problems which are impossible and thus doomed from the outset.
It makes sense for there to be a Christian perspective on prayer. But on getting things done? How can that be?
Considering a seemingly secular subject like productivity in relation to God makes some people uneasy (Christians as well as non-Christians), in part because Christians have made some awkward mistakes when trying to think Christianly about secular subjects.
Some wonder whether it’s possible at all, others think it alienates Christians and non-Christians on an issue where we should have common ground, and others think we’ll end up ruining the Bible by “importing” secular thinking onto it.
A friend of mine once said to me: “I started doing my Ph.D. on the issue of how Christianity and culture relate, and I concluded that it’s almost impossible to figure it out.” (I think he changed subjects.)
But we have to figure it out, because as Christians, we have to live in this world. That means we have to know how our faith relates to everyday things like productivity—let alone all the other fields of knowledge and vocations we live among and interact with all day.
Fortunately, we can figure it out. The Bible has clear teaching on this matter, and it’s not that complicated. We don’t have to settle for any of the three options above, and I think it’s easy to see why. Further, seeing this is exciting—and, more to the point, practically helpful for Christians and non-Christians.
We do have to admit that there have been many attempts to create “Christian” versions of things that are downright strange. I was in a truck stop once which featured a t-shirt that said “Faithbook: Jesus wants to put you in his book.” That’s just plain odd.
That’s one reason why I’m not a fan of creating “Christian” versions of everything in popular culture. We don’t need to create a “God’s Book” social networking site just because non-Christians invented Facebook. We should use and enjoy the good gifts of God’s common grace right along with non-Christians, and do so in ways that are natural and real, rather than coated with a veneer of artificial spirituality.
Trying to force a “Christian” way on something that is learned from observation and which just plain works is spiritual weirdness. It’s wrong, and we need to avoid it. When I fill gas in my car, there is no specifically Christian way to do that, and to create one would be strange.
Further, we can unnecessarily alienate non-Christians by presenting a Christian perspective on things that are largely in the secular arena. For example, there isn’t a specific Christian way to do heart surgery, and to attempt to create one would likely alienate all sorts of good doctors.
On the other hand, the Bible does speak to all of life, and we aren’t allowed to segment our faith into a special category as though it has nothing to do with seemingly secular things—including heart surgery or filling gas or, in our case here, productivity.
So what is the right way to think Christianly about secular subjects?
How to Think Christianly About Secular Subjects
The brief answer is that, as Christians, our faith changes motives and foundations, but not necessarily the methods we use.
So a Christian doctor and non-Christian doctor will likely go about heart surgery in the same way, using the best practices of the field and their training. Both will also seek the good of the patient, rather their own ends. But the Christian has an additional motive—loving God and seeking to serve him. This is a difference that is fundamental, but which can’t necessarily be seen.
That’s not always the only difference—sometimes there are variations in our methods (for example, the Christian doctor will likely pray before the surgery)—but it is the main difference.
The other change our faith makes is that it puts our work on a different foundation. We look to God for power to do all we do, including our work, and act not out of a desire to gain his acceptance but because we already have it in Christ.
With respect to productivity, then, we will likely use many of the same best practices as non-Christians for things like processing workflow or facilitating effective meetings. But when it comes to the motive and foundation of our productivity, the gospel brings in some radical transformations.
That’s the brief answer, though much more could be said.
The upshot is this: thinking Christianly about a subject doesn’t lead to the rejection of good common sense or separating from the world so we can do our “Christian thing.” Christians and non-Christians can have real common ground on a subject, without having to ignore the differences that faith brings about.
Not only can we live and work productively with those who do not share our faith perspective, we can learn much from one another and help each other in these important areas that affect all of us.
For a long time I’ve wanted to update WhatsBestNext.com and turn it into a more complete resource site. I have a few hundred articles on leadership, productivity, and theology that I’m in the process of getting online.
Last summer, my friend James Kinnard and I started talking about these things and we both sensed the articles were just a small part of what is possible. What is really needed is an organization where Christians can be equipped in gospel-driven productivity and leadership from all angles, with new resources, online training, coaching, and more in-person training.
This flows from our passion for helping Christians connect their faith and their work, and takes it another step: giving practical teaching on how to be more effective in our work and all areas of life.
James is a good friend going back many years. He worked at Crossway for the last 7 years, leading their marketing & communications team, making a significant contribution. He is remarkably productive, and has been an enthusiastic proponent of gospel-driven productivity from the start, helping me over the years in refining the concepts. We think very much alike on leadership, management, and productivity, coming from the same framework of Scripture and both having been influenced by contemporary thinkers like Patrick Lencioni, Marcus Buckingham, Jim Collins, and others.
We’ve been sharpening the vision over the last few months, and are excited to launch What’s Best Next.
Our vision is to launch an organization focused on helping Christians be more effective leaders, managers, and individual contributors. Through a variety of practical resources, we want to empower men and women in their daily work, from a gospel-centered perspective.
We want to help Christians sharpen the disciplines and skills of knowing what’s most important (c.f. Matt. 6:33, Matt. 40:37-40) and doing what’s most important, in ways that work out the ethic of the gospel.
In other words, whether it’s strategic planning, setting goals, managing email, collaboration, or a hundred other topics, we want to help Christians be more effective in doing good work, all in light of the biblical principles and gospel-centered motivations that drive true productivity.
We believe that a gospel-centered paradigm for productivity is needed for Christians working in churches, nonprofits, and in the marketplace. The world of work is one of the chief arenas through which the gospel of Christ can impact lives. It’s the main place most of us love our neighbor and serve the common good. And so increasing our personal and organizational effectiveness is a key means of honoring God and serving others.
But few organizations provide focused training in these areas, and fewer still seek to do so from an explicitly Christian perspective.
At What’s Best Next, we want to provide an integrated biblical outlook from the outset—an outlook which not only is based on the Scriptures, but which also takes into account the best business and leadership research from secular thinkers. For their findings are also a gift of God’s grace, and are to be leveraged by Christians.
Imagine what could happen if churches, non-profits, businesses, and individual Christians everywhere were making plans and getting things done in ways that consistently honor God and commend the gospel.
That’s what What’s Best Next aims to help bring about. We will seek to do this through a range of resources, online webinars, productivity coaching, and workshops.
You can learn more on WhatsBestNext.com, but if you’re interested in receiving updates, productivity tips, and free resources as we go along, the best thing to do is sign up for the What’s Best Next Newsletter.