Punch the Clock? Punch It Hard

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C.( MainStreet) -- It is not the number of minutes or hours or days spent learning that matters; it is what you have learned that counts. Results are what matter. Whether it takes me five minutes, five hours or five days to produce a result, the result is the outcome, the product.

If the standard for learning is amount of time spent, then let's just log the number of hours in class. But if it is whether students (both children and adults) learn the concepts, can apply them, and demonstrate mastery, then the only reason to measure the time it takes is if someone can't learn the content in a reasonable amount of time. If they can't achieve the result, then the method of content delivery, learning, and motivation should be examined.
Hours at our desks in education or jobs is not the metric we should be setting.

We have become a culture of clock watchers, calendar markers, and time vultures. We get what we measure, and what we have been measuring in education is how much time we spend in the classroom. Throughout my education path, I focused on getting things done. If I could do it in five minutes, why take five hours? If I could say it in five pages why use 50? The content is what matters and the result and its quality is what really counts.

The same can be said of the workplace. We measure hours worked, not product produced. We clock in and clock out to get paid for the time present, not the contribution. Furthermore, all too often management makes the point of seeing faces in the office ("face time") and not looking at whether the work product is there, or if the deliverables are reached or so on.

Face time in education and jobs is not the metric we should be setting. We want people to be engaged, energized and motivated. Measuring time is not the way to accomplish our goal of learning and skill development, or in the case of business sales, profits and other deliverables. For many students and workers, productivity declines the more time is spent on face time. Boredom, conflicts of values (spending time with family, on hobbies, etc.), and other alternatives for using time increases the more time spent in nonproductive activities.

Technically, yes, everyone is supposed to be productive when at school or work, but reality and human nature tends to perform to what is measured. We measure time, so tasks get stretched consciously or unconsciously to fit the time available. If the performance metric is time, we will be present, but not necessarily contributing.

Imagine if you set individual productivity objectives based on what each person needs to get done: the result. Then you enable that person to work as fast, hard and focused on those deliverables as necessary. As long as they produce the desired outcome, it doesn't matter whether they do it in a few hours or a few days. The outcome would have a deadline, specifications and requirements.

This is what I believe matters most for success in both business and education:

1. The result: content, comprehension, action, deliverables, tangible outcomes
2. The milestones or metrics: a benchmark time of how long a result is expected to take
3. The deadlines: the actual latest date for completion
4. The monitoring: interim checkpoints to assess progress
5. The support: guidance and clarification on the specifics or general direction

We have taken the convenience of segmenting efforts into blocks of time (as a consultant, I bill clients by the hour), but time is not the deliverable; results are. I may be able to do something faster than someone else (say, another consultant) and as a consequence I spend less time executing and delivering results to a client. I do not stretch a project out to fit the time I have available; I use the time it takes to get the desired result. This is ultimately beneficial to both of us: More results (faster) mean lower overall costs for the client and more time for me to work with more clients.

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Lea Strickland, M.B.A., is the founder of Technovation Entrepreneur , a program that helps entrepreneurs turn their ideas into businesses. Strickland is the author of "Out of the Cubicle and Into Business" and "One Great Idea!" She has more than 20 years of experience in operational leadership in Fortune 500 and Global 100 companies, including Ford, Solectron and Newell.