Opinion

The business book club: The 4-Hour Workweek

andrew-sharman-cut-out
CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS

This isn’t a “classical business text” but, before you turn the page, hear me out. Tim Ferriss gave up the rat race and created a code for working less, earning more and having a blast. His book is a New York Times bestseller. But, you may ask: “How on earth can it apply to workplace safety and health?”

Ferriss left three jobs and was fired from most of the others. Perhaps the boldest personal objective I’ve ever been offered by a manager was to try to make myself redundant. Yes, I thought he was crazy, but I realised there could be no finer objective for a safety practitioner. What could be better than an organisation that manages safety so well that it has no need for a safety specialist? 

This book’s primary objective is for you to work fewer hours, but it doesn’t take much to translate this into meaningful safety-related aspirations.

The 4-Hour Workweek outlines four steps: definition, elimination, automation and liberation. Each step shares the tools Ferriss uses. 

 

Consider the average daily requests on a production manager or team leader. Could you streamline your “product line” of requests or services to one or two important things?

 

In “definition” we learn the difference between being effective and being efficient. Effectiveness takes us closer to our goals. Efficiency is performing a specific task in the most economical way possible. Being efficient without being effective is our human default mode.

Business Book Club: The 4-Hour Workweek

But efficiency is just as important. Ferriss reckons that “everything popular is wrong”. He argues you don’t have to keep up with the Joneses. Instead, create “rules that change the rules”. Which safety rules are broken, ignored or shortcut? Your employees know. Ask them and take action.

Step 2 is “elimination”. Boost productivity and impact with a combination of the Pareto Principle (focus 80% of your time on the 20% that produces the most results) and Parkinson’s law (reduce how long you spend to drive your focus to the most important things). It’s important to “know your market well”. Don’t speculate – get out there. I’m reminded of the British TV series Undercover Boss in which top leaders pretend to be workers so they can find out what is really happening in the organisation. The technique is immensely valuable and a quick way to learn more about the people we’d like to influence.

Step 3 is “automation”. Ferriss points out that, in automating his life as the owner of a nutrition supplement business, he reduced his product offerings to a handful of things, which made his life easier and clients happier. Consider the average daily requests on a production manager or team leader. Could you streamline your “product line” of requests or services to one or two important things?

Finally, step 4 – “liberation”. Ferriss craves freedom. He doesn’t want to be chained to a desk, and neither should the OSH practitioner. This final step helps you to liberate yourself from your office, so you can get out into the action, whether that’s the shop floor, coalface or boardroom and increase your “geographic mobility”.

 

CEO of international safety culture consultancy RMS 

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