Don't you believe it ... winners always give 110%

This is one business cliche I'd nominate for removal from the language.

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

I wouldn't recruit someone using it for a job in finance or anything involving numbers, because it isn't possible. The most you can give is 100% - trust me, I have a degree in maths. Even if not taken literally, the idea that you should 'always give 110%' expresses a dangerous confusion. Here's why.

You can't always be at a constant level of effort, because the work you have to do varies continually. I'm glad that my local fire brigade doesn't feel the need to give it even 100% all the time, but in fact spends hours playing volleyball or drinking tea. I'm reassured that, if I did need to call them, they'd be able to respond immediately with all their energy.

Arithmetic confusion may disguise, or even promote, real confusion about business priorities. I'm reminded of the entrepreneur who said she spent '50% of the time looking after customers, 50% looking after staff, and then, of course, another 50% looking after shareholders'. Maybe it's a joke, but it suggests that some difficult strategic choices have not been made.

It equates input with output. It's not what you're putting in that counts, but what you're achieving as a result. There have been times in my career when for months I could have - as they say in Hollywood - 'phoned in my performance', but then there have been part-time projects done over weeks that have made millions. Obsess on inputs and you miss this vital distinction. In fact, the need to be constantly active can create futile 'busy-ness', which crowds out the opportunity for genuinely productive activity.

Still want to give it 110%? Lie down until the urge passes. Take time to think, then do something useful.

- Alastair Dryburgh is head of Akenhurst Consultants -

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