Productivity has seemingly become the buzzword of the 21st century. However, I don’t think that discussions around productivity adequately address what’s really happening. Leading strategist, thinker, and author Martin Lindstrom calls the barrier “corporate nonsense,” and I agree wholeheartedly.
Martin points out that email culture is a prevalent example of “corporate nonsense.” It continues to be widespread globally and a leading indicator of how productivity wanes. For instance, Martin worked with a financial institution where, on average, employees received 800 emails every day. “If you do the math and you spend just one minute per email, that’s your entire workday, and you haven’t even done your work yet,” he explained.
Bite-sized Pieces of Common Sense
Martin’s firm – Lindstrom Company – is a global business and culture transformation firm that was once hired by a firm to increase productivity while also improving company culture. His solution to the flood of emails that ran rampant across the firm and negatively impacted productivity, let alone culture? Ban the CC button.
A month-long trial revealed that simply banning the CC button cut the total number of emails received by everyone in half. Only Martin was unsurprised by these outcomes. “There’s a direct relationship between the number of emails you send and the number of emails you receive,” he said.
Martin refers to solutions like these as a “bite-sized piece of common sense”—the antidote to corporate nonsense.
“We introduced the Ministry of Common Sense (one of Martin’s books) with the sheer purpose of finding all these stupidities going on and, one by one, flicking them off.”
His method starts with finding all the “BS” going on inside the organization. He then uses simple, common-sense solutions to clean up the existing “BS.” It could be removing the time-consuming but low-reward tasks like everyone’s favorite, “The meeting that was booked in order to prepare for the other meeting that will discuss what will happen in the real meeting.”
Many people experience this form of corporate nonsense on a daily basis. I’ve also had my fair share of these meetings over the years. They feel as pointless as a hockey game without a puck.
Martin also worries about people’s personal lives and how they are creating other examples of nonsense. Maybe it’s the time you lose watching YouTube videos or scrolling on social media, liking Instagram posts of dogs pretending to be Frank Sinatra.
Martin recommends starting with timesheets to record how you are spending your day and your overall use of time. This will help you to notice where you are wasting time. You’ll also be able to identify where you are spending your energy with minimal reward.
Once you can get off the hamster wheel and free up some time, you can look ahead five or ten weeks, or even years, into the future.
Search for Purpose
Martin raised an interesting point during our interview concerning the younger generations’ search for purpose. He believes they will never be engaged in their work if they continue to be stuck on the hamster wheel of responding to emails and getting dragged into meetings without any usefulness.
These time-sucking tasks get in the way of the fulfilling aspects of the job, like connecting with customers or furthering the mission. Martin refers to the hamster wheel tasks as “the nonsense in the organization that is really paralyzing over the long run.”
A Lack of Connection
Another critical factor making it difficult for everyone to find purpose and therefore be engaged in their work and culture—and not just in younger generations—is the lack of connection. Martin thinks that some of the organic sources of culture have been taken away by remote work and hybrid models. For example, people would engage and form connections in the canteen or at the water cooler, but those relationships are now much harder to achieve.
In-person meetings also make it easier to read the room. Face-to-face body language and eye contact allow people to understand how others are responding to what you are saying and whether what you’re espousing is reaching them or not.
“All those factors are disappearing,” said Martin, “and it’s not like we are creative; it’s not like we’re creating a culture in those different types of channels that we’re operating with today.”
Looking Customers in the Eyes
Martin thinks that less person-to-person contact makes it harder for businesses to understand what their customers want. He rightly points out that consumers have changed more over the last three years, perhaps more than ever. Yet, many companies do not realize this because they wind up focusing solely on statistics and data rather than looking their customers in the eyes.
One of the most powerful lessons he ever learned was from the late founder of IKEA, Ingvar Kamprad. Martin went to meet him one day but couldn’t find him in his office. So when he asked where he was, staff told him he would be in his usual place, down at the cash register.
During a break in the customer action, Martin asked Kamprad why he was working at the cash register, and Kamprad said, “I want to look everyone in the eyes and see what they’re dreaming and feel what they’re thinking.”
Working remotely has saved businesses a lot of money since the onset of the pandemic. However, Martin is saddened to see that none of those savings have been reinvested into exploring and understanding what culture is and how to design jobs around the passions and lifestyles of the firm’s team members, let alone how to be empathetic with their customers.
Time will undoubtedly prove which organizations acted more like Ingvar Kamprad and Martin Lindstrom than those that didn’t.
Watch the full interview with Martin Lindstrom and Dan Pontefract on the Leadership NOW program below, or listen to it on your favorite podcast.
Pre-order my next book publishing in October, Work-Life Bloom: How to Nurture a Team That Flourishes, (You won’t want to miss digging in.)