AJC’s “Time Value of Life” from an OD Lens

AJC’s bedrock value has always been the “Time Value of Life.” Though coining this phrase is relatively new, it has underscored the foundation of our firm’s conception and operation since we began in 2006.

The following article is a contribution by AJC’s Organizational Development Consultant, Terry Smith

A truism that flirts with being a cliché is the perspective that we Americans are blatant workaholics, and that our business leaders exploit that intensity to unrealistic, sometimes grueling and occasionally abusive levels.  Organizations that understand and engage in positive development grapple with the issue of staying competitive in today’s market without burning out the most important resource they have at their disposal.

The fifth value of AJC addresses this issue directly, the time value of life. 

We place high value on the active pursuit of both our personal and professional lives and believe we can be successful in both simultaneously.

Organizational development is fundamentally a people-oriented discipline.  OD is a key practice in designing organizational structure, work processes, systems, and programs that support the general welfare of people in work settings.  A cornerstone of that work is optimizing the effectiveness of all staff members, leadership and individual contributors alike.  Finding and developing the right balance of work and non-work activity, particularly acute in these COVID times, is a core activity for OD practitioners.  At AJC, we not only embrace this same philosophy for our team, we also incorporate it into our OD, change management, and process improvement offerings for our clients.

As leaders and as consultants, one important aspect of our message to our clients is that employees will take their lead from their manager, watching for acceptable behaviors and imitating them. This is particularly acute in situations with newly hired managers and leaders, and it is necessary to understand that it is difficult to encourage people to balance their work and life if leaders are not doing likewise. 

It is necessary to understand that it is difficult to encourage people to balance their work and life if leaders are not doing likewise. 

Many employees suffer from the perception of job insecurity if they do not work the hours their boss does. This perception is heightened when they already feel insecure because of the change taking place within the organization.  As leaders, we must work diligently not only to achieve business success, but to do so with the right optimization of resources that advanced OD thinking can deliver.

An initiative that organizations may consider at the start of a change project is to provide work/life balance coaching.

Consistent with other OD intervention activities, this technique is heavily focused on individuals, with one-on-ones designed to:

  • Discuss employee priorities – aligning priorities in meaningful ways can help managers load-balance the work their teams are performing and create a more effective workflow.  If hiring practices have been consistent and holistic, personal and professional priorities are often closely aligned to begin with; companies who have adopted effective talent acquisition strategies will find these discussions easier and more productive than those who have not.
  • Set individual goals – distinct from professional goals, these have to do with individual growth and development, and although distinct, often interweave closely with professional goals.  Tuning the leadership ear to catch these nuances is an ongoing process for all managers of people.
  • Develop schedules and help employees to manage their time more effectively – this would seem to be intuitive, yet it is remarkable how many people struggle to manage their calendars.  This has become acute in the pandemic world, and will be a key factor in leading teams whose context for work may have (abruptly) changed in 2020.
  • Establish individual boundaries between work and home life – this is an enormous challenge for workers that have been accustomed to years of commuting, office spaces, factory floors, retail environments, and so on.  Guidance and direction can be found in the experiences of traditional home/office workers, and nurtured with effective OD applications.  Particularly as we begin the slow and fraught return to work scenarios of a hopefully-post pandemic work world, this will be a top priority for effective change management to occur. 
  • Improve the manager/employee relationship – this also would seem to be a foregone conclusion, yet the work world is heavily burdened by relationships that range from mediocre to ineffective to toxic.  The current environment has served both to highlight and, in some cases, exacerbate this issue, and change initiatives of any kind must consider the need for attending to these relationships.  Effective application of OD techniques is essential to this work.
  • Ensure that employees have sufficient downtime to recharge – as noted above, we are a workforce that defines itself through our jobs.  There is a great deal of literature not only on the topic of why downtime is valuable, but also on the dangers of monocular focus on work.  This has become even more true in the age of COVID, where the lines between work and home have become blurred (particularly for those who have little or no experience in home-based work).  As the world begins to re-orient itself around a new methodology of work, this will become more critical to organizational success than ever before.
  • Help employees to work smarter, not harder – this would also seem to be intuitively obvious, and often hinges on how well managers of staff are able to demonstrate this behavior.  As managers of people, walking the talk, or modeling the behavior, is the most effective means of ensuring this.  It’s incumbent on executive leadership to be the ultimate arbiter and source of truth on how the organization will embrace this.
  • Ensure that employees feel comfortable to voice concerns and ask for help – also an imperative for executive leadership is the emotional intelligence to establish a culture of support for the people who work in their organization.  This cultural leadership is often foisted onto the HR department; as one CEO of my acquaintance has said, “HR owns culture.”  This is wrong-headed if only because it gives rise to the opportunity for executives and by extension managers to overlook the fundamental needs of their staff.  

Modern management and leadership techniques focus on people; employees are at the center of all positive change that takes place within your organization. If their emotional state and mental and physical wellbeing is not considered throughout a change project, even a temporary hit to their work/life balance could have disastrous consequences for the outcome of change.

Giving extra focus on work/life balance and ensuring that employees’ wellbeing does not suffer during organizational change will help to maintain their energy and enthusiasm for the change being executed.