Would you like to multiply the value of your work along with the results you’re getting? Here’s one way to do it, that works for both individuals and team leaders. (And don’t you dare jump to the bottom of the article to see the return you can get from this approach.)

Can we be ‘real’ right from the start? Most of us spend most of our time on things that don’t matter (much). And since we’re being real, it includes me more of the time than I would like to admit. If we wanted to be kind, we could say, “It’s not our fault. We just don’t know any better.” But that’s really just an excuse.

Most of us don’t think about the ultimate value of the work we do, we just ‘get busy’. And once our time is filled, we just don’t have/take time to think about it.

But successful people think differently. Instead of filling their time, they seek to create the most value possible. And that makes all the difference in the world.

So what are the categories of work value?

Well what I use with my clients – and I have to admit it’s got a pretty ‘lame’ name – is the Business Value Hierarchy. It includes 4 general categories. These categories apply to businesses, but the model applies just as easily to individuals.

  1. Business Necessity – activities that just need to get done, but don’t really add any value to the business or our customers. This categories includes such things as filling our taxes, paying our bills, and meeting government regulations.
  2. Efficiency – these are activities that help activities use fewer/less resource (usually money or time) to complete them. These include such things are faster computer systems, more streamline processes, eliminating process steps. This is where we tend to make things ‘cheaper’ but not necessarily more valuable to our customers. This category often focuses on incremental cost saving.
  3. Effectiveness – these activities actually make things better for our customers and our business. This category includes adding valuable new features to products or services or providing them more quickly and more cheaply, as well as to entirely new markets. This category tends to focus on growing revenue and profits.
  4. Impact/Business Value – these activities are those that significantly improve our businesses and change the market we serve. See the table below for examples in this category.

To make the point (visually) of the value of work in each category I assign an (arbitrary) multiplying factor to each category to show the representative value of time spend in each area.

  • Business Necessity gets a factor of 0. (Money & time spent here has no return.)
  • Efficiency gets a factor of 1. (There is some value in time spent here, but it is limited.)
  • Effectiveness gets a factor of 3. (Time invested here, has a strong positive return.)
  • Impact/Business Value gets a factor of 9. (Time invested here often dramatically improves, sometimes even transforms, the company and/or the market.)

So, visually, it looks like this.


These factors, of course, are meant only as representative of the value of the work in each category. And these categories themselves are not necessarily mutually exclusive. Meaning activities can have the attributes of more than one category. (So calm down already!)

How does this play out, or look like, in the real world?

Let’s look at a couple examples.

First, let’s look at the (dated, I know) example of Apple’s 2001 introduction of the iPod. (Yes, the iPod, not the iPad.) How do these categories play out in that example?

  1. Business Necessity: Budgeting/allocating money for product design; meeting regulatory requirements; and yes, paying the related bills for the project.
  2. Efficiency (of the product): How many songs it would hold; how long the battery would last.
  3. Effectiveness: The marketing of the product (technically, competitor products were better), the ‘coolness’ of the jog controller, white ‘ear bud’ headphone; its small size, and for the first time – personal ‘playlists’.
  4. Impact: It disrupted/transformed the music industry – giving control to the consumer; ‘1,000 songs in your pocket’; iTunes – 2003

Now, let’s look at a departmental example: ‘typical’ Human Resources department* (specifically the talent management area).

  1. Business Necessity: Create forms; document policies & procedures.
  2. Efficiency: Help managers complete processes more quickly; deal with ‘performance issues/problem employees’.
  3. Effectiveness: Help leaders improve their effectiveness (quality) in key talent management activities; i.e. performance management, workforce planning/positioning, talent assessment.
  4. Impact: Develop great leaders of great teams throughout organization; teach leadership and talent/performance management excellence (principles and practices).

*And don’t think I’m ‘picking on’ HR. I could have chosen any internal department. For example, IT wastes a tremendous amount of time and money ensuring we’re on the latest version of MS Office (as if we even notice the difference, except that it takes up more space and slows down our outdated laptops), and creating file naming standards that most people don’t even know exist. And Legal spends a crazy amount of time going around and around on the wording in a software contract (delaying the implementation project for weeks or even months), that is usually never looked at again once it’s signed. I’ve worked with a lot of HR departments, and I know that they can take it.

Picture3[Note: The order of the categories (levels) are reversed in the table above.]

How do most people/departments allocate their time?

But the point is: where are you spending/investing your time? What I find with most people is that we allocate our time from top to bottom – even though the return on our time is in the opposite order. People, and entire departments, focus first on what they (as they will tell you) ‘must do’ – business necessity. Then they spend time improving what they already do, what I call ‘what they can do’ – efficiency. If they have any time left, they might try a little effectiveness work (maybe), but only the easy stuff. And most people run out of time (and energy), and rarely ever work on the truly ‘impactful’ things.

What does it look like?

This chart shows the typical allocation of work. The allocation of time (and resources) goes from right-to-left (while value goes from left-to-right).


What’s interesting, and positive, is what creates the ‘bulge’ in the time allocation. People, over time, realize that time spent in the business necessity area doesn’t get much of a return (actually none), so they strive to reduce time spent there and shift it to the left. Again a positive idea, it just runs out of steam (okay, time) before it ever gets close to the high value activities on the far left.

What could it look like?

The chart below shows what it could look like if time was allocated based upon the approximate value of the work. (Note, here time is allocated across all categories equal to value; to get even better results time would be allocated only to the most value/important work.)


[Note: these charts are from my actual work with people focusing on playing to their personal/business strengths and the return they get from doing so.]

The key point is this reallocation of time creates a 2000% better return (20 times multiplier) in the value created from the work/time invested. Same amount of time and effort, just working on different – more valuable – things.

And, yes, I’ve heard, (and personally used some of them), all the justifications (a.k.a. ‘excuses’) of why people can’t make this type of change in their situation. But I’ve also worked with people all across the country who were willing to try, and their results are often absolutely amazing. In reality, even small amount of time intentionally and consistently shifted over to the ‘impactful’ area can have dramatic positive impact on your results.

Question: How could you think about your work, and change how you allocate your time and energy, to get better results (create more value) from your efforts?

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