Don't you believe it: Trying harder will get results

Avis was famously the car hire company that tried harder, but it's a pretty limited strategy.

by Alastair Dryburgh, chief contrarian at Akenhurst Consultants
Last Updated: 06 Dec 2010

Being a passionate believer in economy of effort (a position often misrepresented as laziness, but in fact quite different), I have made a careful study of the merits of trying harder. I have to report the following drawbacks:

It's a cop-out. Can't be bothered to figure out what's going wrong? Just tell everyone to try harder. I once turned round a finance department which was struggling to collect payments. We pacified our irate and non-paying customers by getting sales and finance to work together, improving reporting and making it easier to resolve disputes. My predecessor, I was told, had simply exhorted everyone to work harder.

It's bad for your credibility. To make a real impact, managers need to make a difference to organisational problems such as poor inter-departmental co-ordination or inefficient processes. If the best you can do is up people's work rate, the big bosses won't be fooled and you won't score that big promotion.

It can stifle innovation. Most attempts to find better ways of doing things start with a desire to achieve the same results with less effort, or better results with the same effort. Put too much emphasis on beavering away and you disincentivise creativity or just leave everyone too tired or too busy to think of it.

It may not work. Avis, after more years than I can remember, remains number two.

The answer is this: think harder, then execute with less effort. It's not such a snappy slogan, but the results are incomparably superior.


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