Recently, Harvard Business Review published a case study on balancing work priorities. The case centers around Carla, a television producer who has found herself in high demand and low on capacity to meet the need. Read the case study and I’m sure, if you’re a busy professional, you can relate.

Carla’s situation is one many professionals know all too well.

With companies constantly downsizing, most managers are struggling to balance work demands. This is where economics comes into play. We often don’t view prioritizing work from an economics perspective – but we have to take scarcity of resources into consideration when balancing work demands with qualified, available workers capacity. This is the foundation of the 21rw™ renaissance worker productivity methodology that I’ve used for over two decades to get results.

This is important – I say qualified, available workers because it’s not just throwing “bodies” at the problem, which is the approach to problem-solving many companies take.

To truly achieve goals, those delegated to must be both qualified and available to perform the work to achieve expected quality levels.

And here’s the challenge – getting people to view qualified, available workers as an economic resource to quantify worker capacity against workload demand.

Using simple economics to get what you need to be successful at work

The study of finance and economics is beneficial to developing a compelling business case to justify scaling back on production and/or investing the time in developing staff to empower them. One issue that Carla faces is that she hasn’t properly established for Michael a business case to support scaling back production.

Instead, she complained.

Michael, who only sees the results of “Carla magic,” likely doesn’t understand the level-of-effort (LOE) involved in producing her shows and the impact to quality across all shows if Carla can only dedicate small, rushed attention to each.

And here’s the thing – you simply cannot negotiate complaints with the creators of work demands. Without a business case, data, and clear facts – complaints are easily dismissed. Think about co-workers who have gained reputations as complainers – do you listen to them or tune them out the moment they start whining?

Instead of complaining, present impacts to revenue using solid, documented data that can be used to formulate “what if” scenarios – that’s compelling and offers Carla the opportunity to discuss various options with Michael to ensure they both can achieve their goals.

Building your case – and figuring out how to develop your staff along the way

A question Carla should ask when Michael pressures her to put in more hours to cover new projects:

“Where are we willing to fail so I can dedicate my time to X?”

It sounds like a crazy question at first. But documenting all required projects to ensure critical projects are prioritized is the first step to balancing work demands. Carla then needs to document the LOE required for the high-quality production Michael equates with “magic” and then translate that LOE into:

  • all tasks required to achieve “Carla magic,”
  • estimated hours to complete each task,
  • a project schedule, and
  • the number of workers and the skills and experience required for each to achieve the tasks to meet the expected quality results.

Documenting this LOE into a methodology and project schedule will help her dispel the mystery of “Carla magic” for Michael and explain all work demands in concrete, tangible terms that can be negotiated and prioritized with more realistic deadlines. Additionally, it provides the workers she’s developing with a documented approach to perform the work to achieve the required quality targets. So not only is she helping Michael understand what’s required to be successful – she’s helping her staff understand, which sets expectations and makes it easier for Carla’s team to know how to perform to achieve quality targets on time. 

Using this approach, I’ve been able to positively negotiate alternatives that are a win-win for those creating work demands and those responding with qualified, available worker capacity.

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  • Carrie Ratcliff

    Managing Director


    Growing up poor but ambitious forced me to figure out how to have as many options as possible when it came to finding sources of income. Eventually, I realized that I'd developed multi-domain skills offerings that opened doors to many different careers. I've never been out of work. So I've built a company to teach others how to do the same. Empowered people empower others.