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Recently I was talking to a government innovator and I asked him the biggest challenge.

He mentioned a common problem I've heard - the best and most creative/ innovative people often get overburdened with too much to do (day jobs plus all the special projects)

So how do we get more folks involved in innovation and change in government?  How do we make sure we don't burn out the innovators?

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I don't know if you've ever been a member of a small congregation, Steve, but I've witnessed it in a few and there is an interestng pattern.  When the congregation is small enough, everybody shares the load and volunteers for everything; simply because they have to or else nothing will ever get done.  Once the congregation hits a critical mass, people starts getting sorted into "the volunteerers", and "everybody else".  The congregation starts assuming there will be these specialists who attend to "all that stuff", and assume their role is to pay membership dues and show up once in a while.

Workplaces can be the same way, in that individuals gradually get accorded roles.  In a humorous thread we had here a few months ago about preferred workplace superhero names, I joshingly said I wanted to be "the guy".  As in "Go speak to Hammer.  He's...the guy".  People do become the designated whatever that everyone trusts to carry out a certain category of task, and pretty soon nobody else gets asked.  The workplace gets divided into those that do the critical things, and everybody else. 

It generalizes to other things too.  In a terrific paper about "barriers to knowledge-sharing", that I regularly refer to, the authors note that one of the many barriers is the perception by a staff member that they are not the appropriate source of some category of knowledge, hence they do not share.  So the informal designation of people goes beyond doing, into knowing and communicating as well.

I guess what this means is that one of the challenges is to keep people from getting classified into such categories, such that staff perceive the various duties as shareable.  It wouldn't be out of keeping to ask staff to indicate what they'd like to get more competence in, and then have other staff suggest level-appropriate tasks/assignments to bootstrap that competence in unit meetings.  As in "X has said they would really like to know more about such-and-such.  Of the things we have coming up in the workplan what do you folks think would be a good  assignment/file for doing that?  Hopefully one that stretches them without making lie awake at night worrying if they can pull it off."

Make them ALL your "best" employees, and you won't have to worry about any of them being overworked.

Agree with Mark re: the comment about small congregations. Small decentralized field office structures tend to be more effective in my view than centralized headquarters structures for this very reason - power and responsibility are both distributed and people feel they must contribute.

Separately another comment - "innovators" is an overused term. To me what we're talking about is really the "hard workers."

In my experience workplace sorts out like the below.

So the question is - how do you get organizational leadership to support the hard workers and relieve them (since they will not complain), hold the non-hardworking types accountable, and prevent the malcontents from getting in their way?



--The top three groups are not a burnout risk because they love the game--

5% - Leaders - 24/7 at the helm

10% - Innovators - support the leaders in working smarter not harder

10% -  Politicians - born shmoozers who socialize ideas, influence people, network, etc.


25% - Pure Hard Workers - This group IS A HUGE BURNOUT RISK  take responsibility for the work but can't implement greater efficiency


45% - Just Hanging Around - Don't really care either way, sort of do what they're told but don't add much value


5% - Pure Poison - Ruin it for everybody else due to constant complaining, stirring up trouble, interfering with others' work, etc.

I think you have nailed the descriptions and distribution exactly!!!   The scary aspect of it is that only 40 to 50 percent of the organization is adding value.  Is it any wonder that outside stakeholders (stockholders for corporations and voters for government) wonder why these people are on the payroll? 

Good distinction - I like the breakdown.  I think part of 25% problem as well is they do most of the work but don't get much credit - just get thrown on to the next project

Right on, Dannielle. Do you think there's any hope of converting the "bottom" 50%?

1) Use proper assessment & selection tools/methods and don't hire them in the first place.

2) Everybody has them, and all too frequently they weren't that way when they were hired.  So it is partly an issue of progressive dis-engagement of staff.  Most of the time we "grew" the 45% ourselves.  What you're suggesting, Andrew, is converting them back to what they were when we hired them.

3) Constructive, proactive, and thoughtful delegation.  People rarely come banging on your door begging for more work.  Understandably, managers want to assure success, so they delegate in a fashion that they believe stands the highest probability of yielding the level of individual tasks.  At the level of overall work plan, it ends up piling on too much to some and squandering others.

4) THAT'S why you have to constantly work on staff development.  If your only capacity to get certain things done lies with a few select individuals, you're screwed if they get another job, retire, get sick/injured, or otherwise get removed from the equation.

The 5% poison - no. They should be removed from the workplace until they can reverse course.

The 45% just hanging around types - divide and conquer - don't let them continue to be like a blob of Jell-O blocking progress. Use short-term rewards, recognition, etc. as incentive:

* There are opinion leaders in this group who can be re-labeled and retrained as leaders.

* There are those who can be "reprogrammed" if you remove them physically and relationally from bad influences, give them occupational training/technical training, and immerse them into a productive work group where they have a specific function.

* There are those with whom you have to dig a little deeper to find the skill set and motivation, empower them and they can do great things.

* Some people just kind of "are who they are," but that stability in itself can be useful.

And for everyone there ought to be internal social collaboration tools, opportunities to join and lead volunteer groups, etc. Also fitness groups. Also prayer services or meditation - for a particular faith, interfaith, or even just a quiet room that one person at a time can use.

It's the Google concept: The more you can do to engage people physically, emotionally and spiritually in the workplace, the more productive they will be.

Just some ideas.

These sound like great ideas but possibly expensive to implement.  How do we explain to the taxpayer why we are spending major dollars rehabilitating 45% of our workforce during a down economy when there are more than enough eager motivated unemployed professionals that could take there place tomorrow.  At what point does the 45% recognize the need to start providing value if only out of self preservation?

The investment in staff development provides ROI in the form of reduced turnover, higher productivity, greater retention of institutional knowledge, innovation.

We could save money on this function by preventing fires rather than constantly fighting them - to Mark's point.

For example here are 10 things guaranteed to create the kind of dissension that results in disengagement:

1. Lack of clear direction from leadership

2. Uneven enforcement of the rules, or no enforcement, or heavy-handed mess

3. Sending people to do a difficult job, then failing to back them up

4. Inconsistent or contradictory messaging

5. Field-HQ divide

6. Tech adoption without training

7. Abrupt canceling of staff leave

8. Disagreement with policy but no outlet to discuss

9. Physical discomfort with office - lack of accommodation to work style

10. Failure to bring people together to celebrate, mourn, crash on a project - everyone is a balloon adrift in the sky

Great comments!  I especially agree with the one statement about "There are those that can be reprogrammed....

Funny story: They say that 20% of the church, or presumably any other organizaiton, does 80% of the work.  As Sunday School superintendent I only called people who filled out forms saying they were interested in volunterring in my ministry.  When I needed a substitiute teacher I called one parent who said "I'll do it if no one else will."  I replied "We have 2,000 members.  How many would you like to call before I get back with you?"  In response to Sunday School Recruiting, another woman  said "I never want to teach Sunday School.  You never need to call me back regarding that but I will substitue."  I told her how delighted I was to receive a straight answer, and still remember her telling me that, and did use her as a substitue.  The point is some people don't even have the sense of responsibility to say no, or get out of the way so you can get someone to help you achieve the work.  




Interesting - as they say, 80/20 rule - the Pareto Principle to life -

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes.[1][2]


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