Productivity is for employees. Effectiveness is for executives.

Success Equals Busy?

The thinking goes, successful people are more productive than less successful people, so therefore I should focus on getting lots of stuff done. This is true, but its correlation and not the cause of their success. Only a small percentage of their personal productivity leads to outsized success.

Once you go the productivity route to achieve success, you have to find more and more ways to get more and more done — personally.

If you have labor to do and you’re rewarded for your labor, then doing more labor is smart.

If I want to make more money as an executive coach, I simply need to take on another client. I’ll have to work more, but I’ll be rewarded for it.

On the flip side, my clients hire me so that they can lead their business to growth instead of trying to find one more productivity hack that will move the revenue needle.

The first strategy we work on for them to be better leaders, and ultimately achieve more success, is for them to do less.

Their job is no longer to be a technician in their company and even to outgrow being a manager. Their job is to be an executive who guides the managers and technicians.

Concurrent Vs Sequential

The next key to effectiveness is to learn how to get the company’s departments executing projects concurrently instead of sequentially.

Standard productivity advice is to do one thing until it is done and then do the next thing. This is crucial advice for a laborer or even a manager.

The executive will do a form of sequential work in managing his own daily activities, but in the context of running a company, he must get away from sequential thinking if rapid growth is the objective.

Let me try to make this concept more concrete.

This topic of working sequentially came up with a client this morning.

He told me his plan was to have the whole team work on project A (customer support), then B (customer experience), and then C (marketing for new customers).

He felt if he did C before A and B were complete then his company would create problems for itself.

Doing these projects with his small team in sequence makes sense. It is a safe choice. It’s also a slow choice.

When he started thinking about it during our coaching call, he realized that slowing the company down to increase his own perceived safety wasn’t his objective.

His challenge is to work with his leadership team to find a way to create three teams — project A team, project B team, and project C team. The company can then ramp up marketing while the other two teams are working to improve processes so they reduce churn.

There isn’t more labor being done by the executive (the founder). His productivity essentially stays the same, but his effectiveness at meeting his company vision increases.


As a founder, you have to know what compartment you’re in. There are four work compartments for a founder:

  1. technician
  2. manager
  3. executive
  4. owner

You have to gain the wisdom to match activities and the appropriate thinking to their compartment.

I’ll use sales as an example:

If a sale needs to be made and there are no salespeople in your company, then you have to make that sale. That is a technician activity. Your actions and your thinking should be constrained to making the sale.

If sales need to be made and you have salespeople, then you don’t make the sale. You don’t take on the sales technician role. If you don’t have a sales manager, then you must act as the sales manager to assist the salespeople in doing their jobs.

If you’ve got a larger sales team with at least one sales manager, your compartment is now as an executive and your job is to guide the manager in what types of customers and markets the sales team should target for the company .

Finally as the owner, you have one job to do — evaluating the executives. You simply want to make sure the executive team is achieving your desires for the company. Maybe if the executive team isn’t doing a good job, you’ll have to fire and hire — this includes yourself if you’re one of the executives, too.

As an owner, you should be willing to fire yourself from all jobs within the company if you are not the best person for the job. There is no law that says the founder must also be CEO.

Compartmental Confusion

What happens with founders is that they get so close to the work that they can’t distinguish what role they should be in at that given moment.

A sale needs to be made. The founder is compartmentally confused and goes to make the sale. This interferes with the sales team and causes chaos. It might even usurp the authority and respect the sales team gives to the sales manager.

I see this compartmental confusion all the time with my clients whether they’re startups or multi-million dollar companies.

Tying it together:

Focus on effectiveness and not productivity. If you believe you need greater productivity, there’s a high probability that you have poor prioritization for your company’s objectives.

Act and think according to the work compartment you should be in.

Do them both and you remove the biggest limit to growth — you.