11/02/2015 05:11 EST | Updated 11/02/2016 05:12 EDT

Getting Ahead Of The Pack 15 Minutes At A Time

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Step inside an alternate universe: a place where employees across Corporate Canada and the Government of Canada are required to track their time by the quarter hour. Even in this alternate universe, the practice is ragingly unpopular and highly impractical. But tracking hours is already normal practice in consulting and professional service firms -- and some law firms go even further, requiring tracking at six-minute intervals.

My purpose is to suggest that employees who track hours as a consultant would -- for at least a trial period -- probably find it easier to stand out in a competitive landscape.

A one-month trial period could require employees to track their hours and discuss the results with their supervisor, similar to how a consultant may discuss her or his monthly invoice with a client. In adopting this one-month trial period, employees who work outside of professional service and consulting firms could benefit from various consultants' practices.

Thinking of one's supervisor as a client emphasizes the importance of client-oriented servicing. One sure way to lose clients is to focus on work that is personally rewarding, but only tangential to the client's specific need. Conversely, consultants who frame their work based on their own achievements may find their work ignored compared to those who show how it relieves clients' pain.

Many employees face this temptation to pursue personally rewarding work at the expense of work that is most important to their supervisor. They could avoid this pitfall and stand out against colleagues if they can first list their supervisor's top pain points and then explain how their work relieves pain points similar to how a consultant might with their client.

At the end of the one-month trial period, employees would describe the value they provided in relation to time spent. Some projects an employee worked on would deliver high value in shorter periods of time. The supervisor and employee could explore whether more time could be dedicated to such projects. Conversely, other projects would have low value-to-time ratios and it could be explored whether such projects should be abandoned, whether employee needs to step up their game, whether they need additional resources, etc.

This is obviously not to promote a slavish drive towards quick, easy wins. If the greatest pain is a lack of innovation, then spending hours staring out a window coming up with one idea may deliver exponentially more value than many short burst activities.

Moreover, quantifying the number of hours worked is of course significantly easier than quantifying value-added or pain relieved. Tracking hours promotes the mindset of trying to find high value-per-time activities and it begins the conversation between the employee and the supervisor. It is only the starting point.

Back to reality now.

Fortune 500 executives and young professionals alike receive the advice to "think like a business-of-one" and to "build their personal brand." Such topics are now some of the most widely published business advice describing what it takes to stand out.

At first glance, a business-of-one seems an inherently inward-looking idea. But of course the opposite is true. Whether it is made explicit or not, a personal brand has to be built on providing some kind of value (and preferably a unique value) to others.

Rigorously tracking hours is just one example for employees to view their supervisor as their client and differentiate themselves from others by looking for ways to deliver client service excellent, identifying ways to relieve their supervisors' pains and maximizing time spent on high-value activities.


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