Why people with no talent love timesheets

One of the main reasons I wanted to create a think tank is because it can absorb ideas from anywhere. Personalities or differences of opinion don’t matter. Only the idea. We have had the great fortune of so many loyal people who write to us, offering new perspectives and creative insights, which we not only thoroughly enjoy, but they help us refine our arguments and further our Quest.

Tom “Bald Dog” Varjan is one such individual. I’ve always admired his insights, even though I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting him (though Ed Kless has). Returning home from a recent Association of National Advertisers (ANA) conference in Arizona, Tom sent me an email whose timing couldn’t be better.

At the ANA conference, I got to meet the two ladies/consultants who launched the ROWE—Results-Only Work Environment—program for Best Buy’s headquarters in Minneapolis. ROWE is revolutionary, except of course, if you already believed in the concept of no timesheet and utilizing KPIs to measure effectiveness and output. I will write more about ROWE in a future post, and share with you some of the lessons these two extraordinary women shared with us at the conference.

Tom’s email was in the same spirit of ROWE, and I think he has gleaned a fresh insight, which is why I asked for his permission to reprint it here, which he graciously granted. To be precise, his email’s subject title was: “Observation: Why Real Talents Hate Tracking Their Working Hours…” I changed this to “Why people with no talent love timesheets,” for reasons I think will be apparent once you read his entire piece.

Either way, it is an insightful and cogent analysis of why the time tracking, face time at work (just to be there), and other remnants of an industrial era are increasingly irrelevant in an intellectual capital economy. It’s ideas such as these that validate the think tank model. Thanks Tom!

Hi Ron,

Not so much of a question but rather an interesting observation.

The other day I was working with a Vancouver-based firm exactly on this timesheet elimination project. The managing partner has bought into the timesheet-less concept but he was concerned about the other people’s reaction.

Before we went into the room to meet the troops, I asked him to make a note on each person’s comments regarding timesheet.

Then we went in and I asked associates to express their views for or against timesheet and tracking effort and time.

I’ve always known that most people are fear- and scarcity-driven, but this was amazing.

The main reason why the rebels rebelled against the elimination of timesheet is because they fear that they may do some work and, since they can’t account for the time and effort, they wouldn’t get paid for that piece of work. To me this was strange because they were on annual salaries plus bonuses, depending how the firm as a whole was doing.

When the groups session ended, the managing partner and I sat down and I asked the partner to evaluate each associates’ performance. What emerged was profound but not exactly surprising. There was a direct correlation between loving timesheet and low performance. Peak performers were jumping with joy at the notion of eliminating timesheet. The no-hopers insisted on keeping timesheet.

The partner looked at me rather surprised. Then it hit me…Holy sausage, man! Dr. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and his “Flow” concept. This is how Csikszentmihalyi defines the state of Flow:

“Being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”

Can you imagine to interrupt “Flow work” every 6 minutes to fill in your time sheet and account for your time and effort? If Newton, Einstein and other great inventors had been forced to account for their time, we would would still be living in caves.

Now let’s look at the Flow diagram and see what’s happening here.

* Apathy: Low skill low challenge

* Boredom: High skill low challenge

* Anxiety, stress, fear: Low skill high challenge

* Flow: High skill high challenge

Who are the people who insist on keeping timesheet? People in the Apathy and Boredom areas. David Maister calls these people cruisers and losers.

And who are the people who hate timesheet? Yes, the people who operate in the Flow. David rightfully calls them dynamos. They are the people who have excellence in their DNA’s and do their best work every time they touch something because they learnt this behaviour from their parents. They don’t need timesheet and micromanaging. They are naturally conscientious of their work, and are proud and inspired to do great work.

And what about the anxiety part: In my experience, this area is shared between dynamos as they’re stepping up to the next level of performance but haven’t yet mastered all the newly needed skills, and cruisers and losers who are anxious about being found out.

Back to this partner. When he realised how much time and effort it takes to “manage” low performers, after assessing their contribution to the firm, he decided to offer them a better opportunity somewhere else.

Then I asked him what had blinded him to these people’s poor performance so far. He said: The timesheet. These people have put in plenty of time and—seem to have [my comment]—exerted large amount of effort to do their work.

I think they exerted large amount of effort to cover up their low performance. So, here it is again. Get rid of internal time tracking for your people, and you automatically weed out the ones who you can do without, without any negative effects.

And the timesheet-less culture will attract more people who like working in the “Flow.” And who are the people who like operating in the “Flow?” They are the real talents. These are the people who were born on this planet to do what they do. Let them do it, and let them bring joy and profit to your clients and your firm.

I’ve been reading the case studies section in your Professional’s Guide to Value Pricing book, and I see similarities between those cases and my observation. While it makes perfect sense, I haven’t really paid too much attention. But how can a firm sell and track value outwards while tracking time and efforts inwards?

End of the daily enlightenment.



To answer your last question: it can’t. This is precisely why the best pricers among Professional Knowledge Firms DO NOT HAVE TIMESHEETS. The cause and effect becomes more apparent to me everyday.

Tom also sent an article he had written before he began blogging, along the same theme.

The Flow insight is powerful, and validates another insight of our colleague Dan Morris: Work-life balance is for slackers.

When will firm leaders wake up and realize the methods redolent of the days of Frederick Taylor’s time-and-motion studies are useless for enhancing the effectiveness of knowledge workers? Which raises another observation: stars don’t work for idiots. But cruisers and losers do.


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