Everyone wants to be Bruce Lee, but few want to put in the 10,000 (or more) hours of practice and preparation.  It is only when the bar is held high that we can consistently put in the practice and push our skills to the highest levels.

What makes for an ‘A’ Player?

Resilience
Resilience

The simplest possible definition is “somebody you would enthusiastically re-hire”.  Imagine you got to re-hire your team each morning.  Who would be the first people chosen?  These are your “A players”.

What attracts “A” Players?  Two things – other “A” Players and a meaningful challenge.

How do you create a culture of “A” Players?  There is only one path: Zero tolerance of mediocrity.  At the end of this post I describe this leadership attitude.

I was inspired to put this post together by an article on “Learning from the Catalysts at Goldman Sachs”.

I speak in depth about leading A players in the past post “Leading Teams: The 5 Styles of Managing People

The 6 Characteristics of ‘A’ Players

  1. Positive AttitudeResilient; life gives us all blows… some keep moving, some get knocked down.  A players keep moving.
  2. Adaptable – Open to Change, Flexible; what was right yesterday may be wrong today, what worked well yesterday may be ineffective today.
  3. Reliable – write things down, get things done, relentless follow through, do what needs to be done
  4. Big Picture – they know where they and their team are going, they have a personal sense of why they are doing the work that they are doing; building skills not just for today, but for where they want to be tomorrow.
  5. Connected and Influential – Plays well with others, listens actively, open to being influenced and capable of shaping the perspectives and attitudes of others.
  6. Always Learning – reading books, attending seminars, open to culture

 

How to run your talent program like FC Barcelona

At a conference at IESE Business School in 2011, Geoff Smart spoke to the audience about how to source, select and attract top talent to your organization.  He asked “has anyone ever hired someone who looked great on paper, only to find out weeks or months later that it was a terrible decision?”  Many hands were raised in the air.

Jim Collins, in his book Good to Great, says that the very first step of leaders who create massive success in their businesses is “get the right people on the bus”…  and the corollary…  get the wrong people off the bus.

There are 4 parts to hiring well.

  1. Know clearly what you want the person to achieve. Go beyond vague descriptions of skills. eg. “Analytical Thought Process” develop further to “Distinguishes key facts from secondary factors; can follow a progressive thought process from idea to idea; makes sound observations.”
  2. Go to where the best people are. Where are the best people? They are not looking at job adverts.  They are not spending their weekend reading job websites.  They are passionate about their current role.  It is unlikely that those who are actively searching through non-personal channels are top performers.  The top performers are still doing well in their current jobs. How to find the best people? There is only one way: Network. If you want talent: ask who the best people are, get to industry events, meet people at conferences. Watch people in action, know them through their activity, read their books, their tweets, their Quora profiles, their blogs.
  3. Selecting the A players: focus on the past, not the future. Don’t ever ask “how would you solve the problem?”.  Ask “tell me about a time when you solved a similar problem?” Everyone can tell you a great story about what they would do.  The top performers are not smarter, don’t have better to-do list systems, better technology.  The differentiator is that they have found the way to overcome procrastination.  They actually do the things that they say they will do. Give them a present problem and ask them to solve it. See their creative thinking, not necessarily the solution. Look for performance, don’t ask for opinions.
  4. Selling the opportunity, building the culture. Selling the opportunity to an A player does not mean “be their friend”; it means sell them on the personal growth, the professional growth the opportunity to impact the world on a massive scale.  This is what great people want.  Not more friends. They want to be pushed and demanded and be allowed to change the world for the better. Jonathan Davis says that culture is hard to build and easy to destroy. Jonathan turned down a hiring contract recently with a big company.  He told the CEO “You cannot be client of ours.  I’ll tell you why. Your VP of sales is a !@#$%^!. He won’t waste an opportunity to tell you how awesome he is.  We can help you recruit a great employee, but he will leave.” It is the culture that you build that will really attract and keep the top talent.  If you create a great culture, you don’t need to pay employees to bring people in…  they will bring their ambitious, high performing friends in.  The online shoe retailer Zappos pay $2000 for people to leave.

Finding, Recruiting and Retaining Talent is Hard Work

How do you do this without any effort?  You don’t.  Good talent doesn’t just happen because you are showing up.  One of the hardest things in business life is removing a loyal but mediocre performer from your team.  There may be bonds of friendship, there may be many good shared experiences in the past, feelings of connection.  However, the continued presence of mediocrity in your team is a cancer that will eat away at your ability to achieve important goals.  One way to reduce the pain of having to let go of mediocre performers is to get very good at only hiring star performers into your team.

Leadership sometimes means Letting People Go

My father once told me that the greatest service you can do for an unhappy, under performing employee is to let them go – it frees them to search and find a place where they can contribute and find greater meaning.  They won’t thank you in the moment, but this is the service of a leader – it is not about giving – it is about serving; it is not about the easy answers, it is about the right answers.

Highly Demanding, with Love

How would you get Leo Messi to play for your football team?  It would help if you had 3 of the top 5 footballers in the world already on the team.  How do you attract the top talent to your team?  Build a culture of high performance around you.

This starts with a zero tolerance of mediocrity.

A participant on my course last year began his speech “I have often wondered whether it is better as a parent to be permissive or authoritarian.  Which is better?  At a conference a few years ago, I had the opportunity to speak to one of the world guru’s on child development.  I went up to him after his talk.  I congratulated him.  I asked him the question: ‘is it better for a parent to be permissive or authoritarian?’

The guru smiled and said ‘highly demanding with love’.”

It is the same as a leader – can you be highly demanding, with love.  Expect the best from those around you and they rise to the challenge.  Accept the worst, and they will coast in comfort.

When I worked at Accenture, we were often in the business of identifying the existing business processes and then analysing how we would enable these processes with technology. Sometimes it was putting a mobile phone purchase process onto Siebel CRM, sometimes it was putting insurance sales onto SAP ERP.

A senior partner used to say to me “we are not here to just pave the cow path”.

Don’t Pave the Cow Path

Photo Credit: Polifemus via Compfight cc
Heading along the old cow path, Photo Credit: Polifemus

The cow path was the old way of doing things. Sometimes the old way was not a good way. Sometimes the old way was a terrible way.

The Green Book and the Blue Book

My father tells a story of when he was first working as a consultant back in the early 1970’s in a hospital in south west Ireland.

On his first day, he was required to sign in to enter the building. Strangely, he was asked to do this in a blue book, and also in a green book. He asked the girl behind the desk “why the two books?”.

She responded “there have always been two books.”

After a week of this double sign in, my father began to have a curiosity as to why these 2 books were both needed. He would ask managers, he would ask doctors, he would ask others who had worked there for years. Always, the same answer “there have always been two books”.

After months of work my father was coming to the end of his project at the hospital. As part of the final phase of the project, he was to meet with a retired doctor who had been around since the very beginning of the hospital.

At the end of the meeting with this eminent doctor, my father again asked his question “why the two books?”

The doctor laughed and said “Back in the war years, there was rationing of petrol. A lot of our staff were unable to easily get to and from work. The hospital bought bicycles for staff to use to get home quickly. The blue book is for signing bicycles in and out, the green book was the original attendance book. Somewhere along the way, the bicycles were no longer necessary and were sold… but we never were able to get rid of the blue book”.

I have seen so many blue book processes in companies. It is much, much harder to stop something that we are already doing than it is to start a new thing.

In each of our lives there are also many blue book processes. They may have served us well several years ago, but are just busy activity now. They are processes that do not serve.

In productivity, removing the blue book processes is more important than adding efficiency to the green book processes. Removing busy-ness. Stopping using the old cow path when we now have a six lane motorway.

I summarised my 11 Jedi Productivity Posts series in a short visual presentation:

The presentation was awarded Slideshare “Top Presentation of the Day”.  Thanks to all the “like”s 😉

The full Jedi Productivity Series:

  1. Jedi Productivity Presentation
  2. Jedi Productivity 11 of 11: We need you. The Jedi must Prevail over the Evil Empire and why you matter
  3. Jedi Productivity 10 of 11: ”Luke! you switched off your targeting computer!” making time for yourself
  4. Jedi Productivity 9 of 11: Yoda’s first rule: Do or do not, there is no try
  5. Jedi Productivity 8 of 11: How the Death Star commander runs his Hyper-effective Meetings
  6. Jedi Productivity 7 of 11: R2D2, C3PO and the Power of Delegation
  7. Jedi Productivity 6 of 11: “Use the phone Luke…” Master the telephone
  8. Jedi Productivity 5 of 11: Han Solo’s guide to Getting on top of the Email Inbox (a.k.a. Jabba the Hutt)
  9. Jedi Productivity 4 of 11: Obi-Wan’s guide to say “No”, (these are not the droids you are looking for…)
  10. Jedi Productivity 3 of 11: Deal with Darth Vader’s Evil “Urgent” Interruptions
  11. Jedi Productivity 2 of 11: The Emperor’s guide to Goal Setting and the 20 Mile March (LT, ST, habits)

The equation for human performance is the following:

Performance = Potential – Self-Sabotage

Photo Credit: Heberger Site via Compfight cc
Blowing myself up, Photo credit: Heberger Site

That is it. You achieve not what your boss lets you, not what the others let you… you achieve what you don’t screw up for yourself.

In the years since I first wrote this equation up in a class and people said “No… it can’t be that” I have become more and more convinced that the greatest devil in our own lives is the 4 Arts of Self Sabotage.

The 4 Arts of Self-Sabotage

  1. Distraction: Lack of Focus
  2. Fixed mindset: “I have what I have now because of who I am, not how hard I have worked”
  3. Arrogance: sometimes seen as Denial, sometimes as Nostalgia, sometimes as Victim, sometimes as Sole Hero
  4. Inability to Handle Anxiety (or anger, or rage, or fear)

Success in life, whether sporting success, writing success or financial success has more to do with overcoming these 4 arts of self-sabotage than any level of original brilliance or one-time shots of luck.

I heard this question asked to a full conference room recently: “Do you know how to use the internet?”

All hands went up.  Everybody in the room felt that yes, they know how to use the internet.

Then, the speaker asked a second question: “Ok, show me what you have created?”

“Show me what you have Created”

At first there were only confused faces in the room.  What did he mean?:  “what have you created?”

If I say I can use an oven, it means that I can create delicious food with it.  If I say that I can use a car, it means I can travel to interesting destinations with it.  If I say I can use the internet, what do I mean?

Who uses who with the TV?  Do I use it?  or does it use me?

Who uses who with the internet?  Who benefits most when you spend 10 minutes updating your status on facebook?  You, your friends, or the owners and managers of Facebook, Inc?

There is a saying: “On the internet, if it is free it is because it is using you”

What have you created with the internet?  It is not ok to just be a giant consumer.

What can you create?

 

I was teaching a seminar recently and a young film producer told me “I am not a good manager”.  I asked him why he believed this.  He described a recent series of disasters that he had overseen with his team.

I asked him “who are the people on your team?”.

He said his cousin helped out with finances and his uncle was helping out on sales.

I suggested that his problem had nothing to do with management or leadership skills.  It was a HR challenge.  This reminded me of this video I recorded on “The 5 Styles of Managing People”:

Leading people

It’s important to adapt your leading style to each individual and actually it goes more detailed than that it is down to each major task that each individual has so that may be that one person in order to produce the weekly
status report they don’t need any supervision at all you can delegate it fully to them, but in creating a marketing plan for the department its something that they hadn’t done before and they’re going to need a lot more “hands-on” management.

As you think about managing people it comes down to individuals and the tasks assigned to them. With each
task that you assign to an individual: what is important to think about are two things:

  • the motivation to take on this challenge and,
  • the experience they have in doing this sort of thing

Motivation: 0, 1 or 2

What i would ask is that you think about for each individual motivation on a scale: zero, one or two

Zero: is they are not motivated. Someone with motivation zero: they really aren’t interested in doing this task perhaps with a particular employee they don’t want to be the one that creates the status report for the weekly team meeting, or you’ve asked them to do a planned visit and write up a report on how things are going and they are really not motivated by that they prefer some other aspect, perhaps the technology is something that turns them on.

So zero is that individual is not motivated by this task. One is there is some motivation there it’s not that they are jumping up and down its not that they are asking you “please please can I do this?” but, there is a desire to grow and two: is that you can see fire in their eyes. They really want to do this, perhaps it’s an area that they really want to develop for their future perhaps its a type of work they really love.

In my case i remember when I first started at Accenture, programming computers was something you didn’t need to manage me to do. I loved doing it. I would do it in my spare time, at the weekends. So, my manager looking at me while he hands me a programming task would see me light up and and be excited almost have to hold me in the room to explain the full project before I could go out and start playing with the computers. Because in my mind it was playing that i was doing when I was programming if that same manager had said “on friday, instead of programming i want you to spend the day with the accounts receivable team drawing a process map of how they conduct the process” – that fire would have gone out of my eyes because it was not something that really motivated me.

So with each task and each employee: it’s important to just think about what level of motivation they have to get this activity done and the same for experience and again we have a zero, one, two scale.

Experience: 0, 1 or 2

Someone who has done many years of this, perhaps someone on your team has been creating the minutes for the team meeting for a couple of years they do it well: their experience is two. They’ve got three or four years of experience doing it, they’ve got the template, they know what goes in there, they know what doesn’t go into there they don’t need to ask for help.

Maybe there’s someone has just started on the team, they’ve never created minutes and they don’t know what it quite looks like: their experience is zero.

Maybe there is someone on your team that for a programming task they really haven’t got a background in this, they don’t know the language or they have not programmed in this particular language before so their experience is zero or one or two. So you need to think through…

What’s what’s this skill level of this person how much experience are they bringing to get to this particular activity and you score for each activity and each person:

  • where they are on motivation: zero, 1 or 2
  • where they are on experience: zero, 1 or 2

This will give you some basis, so perhaps you have someone who is zero and zero…

The Leaders Window: Management Matrix

Lets move that onto our our management matrix: so you have taken a particular task and an employee… and and you have done the sums, and you have looked at how their motivation is to do this particular task, how their experience is to do this particular task and maybe the sum of motivation and experience is zero:

You decide this person is not motivated by this particular task. They have got no experience: zero plus zero leads to zero.

Motivation + Experience: Zero

When you are faced with an individual on your team that is not motivated and that does not have previous experience there’s nothing you can do as a manager to get them to do this well. So, a zero is a HR problem

A zero: there is no management that you can do to get good work out of this individual. It’s a waste of time giving this piece of the activity to that individual employee. So your best decision, if this is a very important piece of work for the team, is to give it to someone else and if you don’t have someone else to do it
you need to replace this individual on the team because there’s no short or long term solution under which
someone who is not motivated and doesn’t have a good level of experience is going to be able to contribute anything worthwhile to the team so if it zero for motivation and zero for experience you need to find someone else to do this work.

Motivation + Experience: One

Let’s say they’ve got a little bit of motivation but no previous experience; or the other case
they’re not really motivated but they’ve been doing it for long enough that they can do it fairly simply
the case of producing minutes from a team meeting the individual is not motivated but they know generally what it looks like which case you’ve got a one as the sum.

In the case of “1” we move to micro-management in the case of micromanagement you’re going to have to supervise quite closely you going to have to set the activity weekly set the timing and describe how you want it done and audit and look over it anyone who’s in this “1” level whether it’s because their experiences is zero or their motivation is zero it is going to be hard work.

Micro-Management is not something you have an enormous scope to be able to to do much of. So the only reason you will allow someone to be in this micro management level is because either some things is going to change or you can see a path for them either to be more motivated or to gain the experience to be able to do it unsupervised.

Your objective is to move people away from micro-management and move them to level “2”, so level “2” is perhaps there’s a little bit of motivation, a 1 score in motivation and a little bit of past experience: so
one and one gives you two maybe its someone who is young who hasn’t done this before, but is very, very motivated to learn so their motivation is 2 but their experience is zero or somebody who’s not very motivated but they’ve been doing this for a long time and have a great deal of experience and know how to get it done, in which case your score is 2 and that 2 an activity, and an individual with a score of 2: you can Manage.

Motivation + Experience: Two

In the case of Manage, you are delegating the “how” to them so the individual it’s up to them them to decide how they want to do it but you keep control of the when and the what. So its the status report: “I want it 10 minutes before the team meeting on friday”, “I want it to look more or less like what we have always had”, “It’s up to you when and how do you do it”.

Or marketing plan, you set the when: “its due in two weeks time” the what: its a market plan. I’d like it to look to looks somewhat like the template we did last time but you leave it up to them to come to you with the how. but you are available for helping with the how, but that is delegated to them.

In the case of management you’re still keeping control of what is being done, you’re still keeping control of the deadline but you’re passing over the day-to-day work on the project to the individual and again this with the accountability question needs to be reinforced each time they come to you you’re pushing back the problem to
them:

  • “what else do we need to do?”
  • “what other things could be done?”
  • “what do you need to get it done?”

Anyone that you are managing: you really want to be looking at how you can move them to to level 3. Because level 3 is where you can lead. The key here at the management level, and at the micro-management level; this side of this quadrant you have a scarce amount of energy and time to dedicate here once you move your employees, the people reporting to you over into the style of leadership of “leading” or fully delegating; you can start to have many, many more people on your team because they’re not sucking a scarce resource that you have in terms of energy, in terms of time.

Motivation + Experience: Three

Leading: if you look at a task, and this task + person: they are highly motivated, they are really motivated to learn, and there’s a little bit of experience so you have given them 2 on the motivation, given them 1 in terms of experience: “3”, you’re leading.

In the case of leading, you are handing over even more responsibility, you are delegating the “what”, you are delegating the “when” you are delegating the “how” over to the individual and you are being there just to
to make sure that they are being supported to remove obstacles and help them be successful so, you’re role is no longer manager but moving more to coach and pushing the ownership of all of the task over to the individual
and if you’ve got an activity where someone is fully motivated: motivation level 2 and they’ve got plenty of experience: experience level 2 you start to get to 4.

With 4 you can delegate and ideally you want to move everyone into this phase: into delegation

Motivation + Experience: Four

You are now handing over full control, and you’re trusting, you’re trusting and doing some regular verification.

The important thing in delegation: the difference between an employee, a team member feeling that they’ve received something delegated to them, or the negative, they have received it dumped onto them it is a very different feeling as a team member to have something dumped on to you.

The big difference between dumping and delegation: in delegation you tell the individual:

  • “I have specifically chosen you”
  • “I trust you to do it”
  • “I am here if you need anything”
  • “I know you could do it better than I can do it”

You need to come back regularly with praise. Let them know you are aware they’re working on it. Let them know that you think they’re doing a good job. Dumping is a very horrible feeling. It feels like someone has just
passed, thrown the work over at them because you don’t want to do it yourself.

Having something dumped on you is a very un-healthy feeling.  Having something delegated to you and someone look you in the eyes and say

  • “I have specifically chosen you”
  • “you can do this better that I can”
  • “I trust you to come to me if you hit an obstacle”
  • “if you need some support to think through the problems”
  • “I trust you to get it done”
  • “I am not going to follow up, I am not going to check up”
  • “This is yours to get done”

When you get your team into leading and delegating as the main styles that your working with them as the team lead you now are freeing up your time to really look ahead you are not stuck in the details of day to day
and you are going to be able to start to look ahead and create time really make those that work for you successful.

Freeing up time for the Future

The real job of a leader, a great leader, is someone that everyone underneath them is even more successful than they are without you as the leader that can only happen when you start to move most of the activity that is being done by your team into these modes of leading and and delegating, and giving you the time and the energy to look up to see the roadblocks, remove the obstacles, praise, and reward and really boost the team into a high performance team so these are some important things to think about as you are giving the work to each member of the team and each activity, and each individual team member will need a different style in terms of how you relate to them how you help them take responsibility for their work.

The objective is always to be moving people out of micro-management into management; out of management into a style of leading and as soon as possible moving them from leading to a style where you can delegate.

Delegation can only happen when the individual team member is motivated and they have enough experience to know more or less how to get the job done so your job as a leader is to make working on their motivation and on working on giving them the skills so that they can be a 2+2 person; giving them a “4”, keeping them in the delegate box

if you can achieve that: you’re going to be really successful as a team leader.

Photo by my daughter Alexandra
Photo by my daughter Alexandra

Most people know what they would have to do if they really wanted to get where they want to go.

But, they don’t get there.

Most don’t even start.

To Must or Not To Must

If it is not a must for you, it is not going to happen.

What is the holy grail between someone taking action or not? Must. I must fear more the path of non-action than the path of action.

It is very, very easy to talk myself out of action. It is very, very hard to talk myself into taking action.

It is much easier to not go for a run than to go for a run.

Unless… unless there is a lion chasing me. Or a tiger, or a shark… in fact anything with big teeth… but its the lion that changes the deal.

The lion re-balances the scales.

What’s your lion?

When you take action, next action becomes easier. When you don’t take action, procrastination becomes easier.

There is no defeating The Resistance. You must have a lion chasing you.

What’s your lion? What’s going to happen if you don’t take action. You are going to regret? You are going to be stuck where you don’t want to be. What will it feel like?

At the end of every course I teach at IESE Business School, all participants give extensive feedback on their experience of the course, the facilities… and on my role as a teacher.

When the summarized feedback reaches me a couple of weeks later, I open the pdf in a state of nervous tension.  I am preparing myself emotionally for the news contained in the report.  If the report is positive, I start to relax and enjoy the feeling of professional competence.

Photo Credit: Ben Heine
Photo Credit: Ben Heine

However, the last few quotes on the report are always the “areas for improvement”.  I get tense again, and start already to justify myself before I even start reading.

I love positive feedback.  I hate “developmental” feedback.  I pretend sometimes to appreciate it, but I resist it fiercely inside my mind.

I am pretty sure that I am not alone.

I rationally know that it is the developmental feedback that can most help me improve, but I find it very hard in the moment to accept it and work with it.  I feel it as a personal attack, not as an objective opinion of a friendly student who wholeheartedly wishes to see the institution of IESE Business School improve with their advice.

What do you do to “accept” developmental feedback?  Are there any things that have changed your willingness to be open to and even seek out developmental feedback?

 

Economist Andrew McAfee suggests that, yes, probably, droids will take our jobs — or at least the kinds of jobs we know now. In this far-seeing talk, he thinks through what future jobs might look like, and how to educate coming generations to hold them.

Are you Bill or Ted?

There is a big and growingseparation between the fortunes in the western world for “People like Bill” and “People like Ted”.  (Defined at 7:00 in Andrew’s video presentation).

“People like Bill” – not college educated, low-level blue-collar work

Will be replaced by droids.  Increasing divorce, increasing underemployment, increasing social exclusion.

“People like Ted” – College educated, professional type, engineer/doctor/lawyer

Have a great future.  Increasing opportunity, improved lifestyle, great social life.

What do you think?

Is the future this clearly win/loss?

What is the role of education in preparing “People like Bill” for a better inclusive role in the digital droid future?

Further Reading

Sometimes I want a lazy day.

Sometimes I don’t feel like producing good work.

I often blog about productivity, about removing purposeless-busy-ness from our lives; but sometimes I don’t car and I want to give the impression that I am really working hard.

Here are 10 golden rules for looking like you are working hard:

George Costanza’s 10 Commandments For ‘Working Hard’

  1. Never walk without a document in your hands. People with documents in their hands look like hardworking employees heading for important meetings. People with nothing in their hands look like they’re heading for the cafeteria. People with a newspaper in their hand look like they’re heading for the toilet. Above all, make sure you carry loads of stuff home with you at night, thus generating the false impression that you work longer hours than you do.
  2. Use computers to look busy.  Any time you use a computer, it looks like “work” to the casual observer. You can send and receive personal e-mail, chat, and generally have a blast without doing anything remotely related to work. These aren’t exactly the societal benefits that the proponents of the computer revolution would like to talk about but they’re not bad either. When you get caught by your boss — and you will get caught — your best defence is to claim you’re teaching yourself to use new software, thus saving valuable training dollars.

    George-costanza
    George Costanza, from Seinfeld
  3. Keep a messy desk.  Top management can get away with a clean desk. For the rest of us, it looks like we’re not working hard enough. Build huge piles of documents around your workspace. To the observer, last year’s work looks the same as today’s work; it’s volume that counts. Pile them high and wide. If you know somebody is coming to your cubicle, bury the document you’ll need halfway down in an existing stack and rummage for it when he/she arrives.
  4. Use voice mail.  Never answer your phone if you have voice mail. People don’t call you just because they want to give you something for nothing — they call because they want you to do work for them. That’s no way to live. Screen all your calls through voice mail. If somebody leaves a voice-mail message for you and it sounds like impending work, respond during lunch hour when you know they’re not there — it looks like you’re hardworking and conscientious even though you’re being a devious weasel.
  5. Look impatient & annoyed.  One should also always try to look impatient and annoyed to give your bosses the impression that you are always busy.
  6. Leave the office late.  Always leave the office late, especially when the boss is still around. You could read magazines and storybooks that you always wanted to read but have no time until late before leaving. Make sure you walk past the boss’ room on your way out. Send important e-mail at unearthly hours (e.g. 9:35 p.m., 7:05 a.m., etc.) and during public holidays.
  7. Use sighing for effect.  Sigh loudly when there are many people around, giving the impression that you are under extreme pressure.
  8. Opt for the stacking strategy.  It is not enough to pile lots of documents on the table. Put lots of books on the floor etc. (thick computer manuals are the best).
  9. Build your vocabulary.  Read up on some computer magazines and pick out all the jargon and new products. Use the phrases freely when in conversation with bosses. Remember; they don’t have to understand what you say, but you sure sound impressive.
  10. Don’t get caught.  MOST IMPORTANT: Don’t forward this page’s URL to your boss by mistake!

Source: http://www.jumbojoke.com/george_costanzas_10_commandments_for_working_hard.html

PS This might be a joke, but it is also a good checklist for identifying people around you who may be putting more effort into appearances of productivity than into real productivity (or yourself…)