Make more money by focusing less on today and more on tomorrow

Have you ever wondered why one job gets paid more than another? What is the quality that enables some jobs to command more pay than other jobs?

Fifty years, Elliott Jaques was asking himself this same question. He was working with a British industrial company and started interviewing employees about “fair pay” and he found the they all pretty much agreed that some jobs were “worth” more than others. Executives, salespeople, line workers and accountants all had a similar relative sense of what “fair pay” for any given job was. When Jacques looked into what drove their assessments he found that those who got paid more worked on tasks that had longer time horizons. The problems they solved had effects that weren’t seen for a long time. Line workers were focused on the here and now, foremen focused on the day and sometimes the week, plant supervisors solved problems that lasted months, etc. What he discovered was that jobs that required longer-term planning and execution and thinking across longer time frames earned higher wages.

Jaques called that time span of discretion, or the length of the longest task an individual can successfully undertake and it was powerfully correlated not just with how individuals got paid (line workers paid hourly, executives paid with a salary and annual bonus) but it also lined up with people’s perceptions of a “fair” wage.

Now let’s think for a minute about your organization. How often do you, as the leader, spend time on decisions that affect only today’s work? Are you checking deliverables or organizing work between team members? Or are you spending your time working on long-term issues, those “important, but not urgent” issues that could be game changers over the course of a year…

The more of your day you spend working “in” your business — making decisions that affect only today’s work (or this week’s deliverables, or this month’s numbers…) — the less money you are earning. You want to make the big bucks? Work on longer time horizons.

  • What are the long-term trends affecting your business? Your industry? How can you get out in front of them?
  • What will be the biggest constraint on your team next quarter? Next year? How can you alleviate that?
  • What is one problem, that if solved, would unleash untold productivity for your team?

Those are the kinds of issues that leaders need to be engaged in. Solving those kind of problems earn you the big bucks.

But if you are working on these longer term issues, who solves the day-to-day issues? I mean someone has to decide who is doing what so that the clients get their work on time, right? I mean these problems aren’t going to solve themselves!

Any chance that your team members could do some of that? If you’ve been doing it for them, your team may not have developed the mental muscles that they need in order to do that. Or maybe they have they just don’t have the confidence? For some they have the ability and the confidence, it’s just easier to wait for you to do it. Unless you stop doing it you’ll never know.

One option is to try playing dumb for a while and see how they do. Instead of solving the problem reply with, “I don’t know, what do you think?” and see what they say.

You could try coaching them instead of giving them the answers. Be curious and just ask questions and see what they come up with.

However you do it, you need to stop being the answer man and start thinking longer.

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