Laziness (or sloth, for you biblical-minded readers) is not commonly considered a virtue. Those of us who consider themselves good employees usually toil hard and diligently day in and day out to manage all the tasks given
Let me suggest an alternative: a truly outstanding employee is creatively lazy instead of unquestioningly diligent.
By creative laziness I mean finding new ways of getting the job done with the minimum of effort. Instead of doing things the way they have always been done, a good worker actually looks for ways to accomplish her goals with less trouble. This can be achieved by regularly challenging the unspoken assumptions:
- Why is this done, anyway?
- Is there any real benefit or added value?
- What is this done for?
- Do things necessarily have to be done this way?
The common equation in which the corporate treasury must get more and more done with decreasing resources, requires an extra dose of creative laziness.
When I started out in a corporate treasury (very wet indeed behind the ears), I had the fortune of starting from mainly a clean sheet, as the company that had hired me had just been IPOed off from its parent company to a new listed entity. To be sure, we had inherited some of the processes from our old parent company but some needed to be built from the scratch. The processes we built from scratch were generally smooth and easy. The processes we inherited unavoidably bring to mind an old psychological experiment performed on monkeys:
A bunch of bananas was hung from the ceiling of the cage. There was a ladder the monkeys could use to climb to the bananas. However, every time a monkey tried to climb up to get a banana, cold water was sprayed on it. It did not take the monkeys a long time to learn to avoid the bananas. As new monkeys were brought into the cage, they learned the rules of the game without even having been soaked. Fairly soon, there were no monkeys in the cage that had been soaked but still no-one tried to get to the bananas.
Many inherited processes, not to put too fine a point on it, require doing things in a way no-one seems to understand. In order not to become like those timid monkeys, it is a good idea to occasionally challenge some taboos and see if we actually get soaked or not.
An illuminating example is a monthly management report that we diligently created and delivered month after month. The information contained in it was rather daft and we had no idea why precisely this information was required. We finally dared ask about this and it turned out that the top brass had likewise no idea why these figures were reported to them. We then compressed the report that used to measure dozens of pages into a two-page summary that our treasury system could generate without manual work.
By challenging the status quo, we managed to save two person-days per month and actually improve the quality of our service!
Another good example are the currency outlooks that we regularly wrote to offer better service to our clients, i.e. business units. After some gentle questioning we found out that no-one actually read them. The corporate policy required operating units to hedge their currency positions from the outset and our oh-so-illuminating outlooks were absolutely pointless to our intended audience. I suppose you can guess what we did with the outlooks — we unceremoniously dumped them.
The lesson? Be lazy, as laziness is the source of creativity. Don’t do something simply because it has always been done. Make a list of things you are supposed to do and find out why they are supposed to be done. Sometimes it is good to question even the obvious things.