Written by Brent D. Peterson on . Posted in White Papers

Reducing Fake Work

How many countless working hours have you spent on projects, proposals, paperwork, and meetings that felt useless or were ignored or dismissed?  Hard work is not the same as Real Work.  Half of the work we do consumes valuable time without strengthening the short- or long-term survival of the organization.  In a word, it’s fake.  Not only does Fake Work drain a company’s resources without improving its bottom line, it steals conviction, care, and positive morale from employees, and adds the burden of high turnover, communication breakdowns, and cultural patterns of poor productivity.

The Right Map:  Real Work Not Fake Work

Our colleague, Stephen R. Covey, uses the following story to describe issues regarding Fake Work.  Suppose you’re flying to a business meeting in Chicago.  You land on time, go to the car rental place, and rent a car.  The person at the desk gives you a map.  You find your rental car in the lot and drive off, happily on your way.  The problem is, the person at the desk made a mistake and handed you a map of Philadelphia.  That was the only source of information that you had.

You’re totally lost and utterly confused, so you call your business associate, who is waiting for you at the meeting, and tell him that you can hardly find your way out of the airport.  He glibly tells you to try harder, so you double your speed, but now you’re getting increasingly lost twice as fast.  You call your associate again in a state of utter discouragement, complaining that you can find no landmark that resembles anything on the map.  He senses your negative energy and tells you to think positively.  He even gives one of his favorite little speeches about the importance of PMA – Positive Mental Attitude – and sings a few lines of “Your altitude is governed by your attitude” to you.  So you start thinking positively and now you don’t care that you’re lost.  You’re happy and contented in your lost state.  You never really wanted to attend the meeting, anyway.

But the problem had nothing to do with your behavior or with your attitude.  It had everything to do with a bad map. Fake Work is about getting the right map about work.  Now of course, if you have the correct map, then behavior and attitude become important.  But until you have a correct map, to change your behavior or to shape up your attitude would be worthless.  In almost every field of endeavor, significant breakthroughs are break withs: breaks with the old ways of thinking, old mental modes, in short – bad maps.

Caught in the Activity Trap of Fake Work

Employees today are caught in the activity trap – they’re busy to the hilt but profoundly misaligned with well-thought-through strategies and desired results.  In fact, in most cases, even if the strategies are well thought through, they’re not understood down the line.  Or if the strategies are understood, most people don’t know how their role connects to those strategic goals.  Then the whole world of work revolves around execution gaps.  The activity trap becomes institutionalized and acculturated, and eventually many come to assume that this is simply the way things are – they start to accept that most reports are never even looked at, most meetings don’t need to be held, and little by little they become codependent and complicit in maintaining this terribly costly fake reality.  Then more and more people complain, criticize, and blame, blame, blame.

Alarming Statistics that Highlight Fake Work Concerns

Most employees say they work hard.  However, much of the work they perform is Fake Work that is not aligned with their organizations’ strategy and goals.  The following statistics show how individuals can become lost in the Fake Work culture of their organizations:

  • 73% of workers say their organizations’ strategies and goals are not translated into specific work tasks they can execute.
  • 70% of workers do not know what to do to support their organizations’ strategies and goals.
  • 81% of workers do not feel a strong level of commitment to their organizations’ strategies and goals.
  • 87% of workers are not satisfied with the results of their work at the end of most weeks.
  • 68% of employees do not feel workgroup goals are translated into Real Work tasks.

Results at Work Are Driven by Strategy, Alignment, and Execution

The concerning issue is that about 50% of all work is Fake Work.  So, doing Real Work guides individuals and organizations to achieve results. That may seem simple, but the truth is, workplaces are plagued by Fake Work that is draining them of both dollars and employee morale.  What can an organization do to increase its performance?  The answer: view work with an eye towards results.  When individuals, teams, and organizations focus on the work they do productivity miracles begin to occur.

The Work Itself:  A Strategic Alignment Process

How can organizations align with strategy and reduce Fake Work?  Use The Work Itself Process.  The Work Itself is a process to help organizations get results by aligning their people to strategies to execute Real Work.  It is the antidote for Fake Work.  This process brings the whole organization together to execute strategy by eliminating Fake Work and focusing on Real Work.  It is based on our three-step model:


The model is a simple illustration of a powerful chain that drives an organizations highest expectations and goals through teams and to individuals to do the work and be accountable for that work.  However, it is complicated because few organizations actually link the elements of this chain together.  Alignment is the weakest link, which we call the “Execution Gap” because so few organizations understand how to do it or they treat it as obvious and easy.

Create Strategic Focus

Strategy is the art of defining the tactics the organization is going to use to compete, differentiate, create value, and drive growth. Strategy is the foundation on which business value is built.

Strategy is not driven through the organization. The news is full of the kind of careless attention to how strategy gets out of the boardroom and into the daily work of employees.  So, while companies spend lots of time developing strategy, they often make three big mistakes that ensure that their strategy doesn’t get implemented:

  • Poor articulation.  Strategies often look good, but aren’t always written well and assumptions lead to poor understanding of intended focus and critical change.
  • Poor communication. Communication requires concerted plans and skills.
  • Poor translation. Alignment occurs when strategy is owned by employees.

Align Teams to Drive Strategy

Alignment starts with leadership, but must be owned by individuals at the work level.  People must align their individual tasks through the lens of their team.

Alignment is the “execution gap” in almost all organizations. Here’s the secret and missing ingredient.  Articulation and communication are only setting the stage so team leaders and their teams can begin to interpret plans into work.  Translation is how accurately they can turn strategic intent into daily work. Translation happens on the floor—in the heart of the workplace.  Strategy is either understood or not.  People are able to interpret or not.  Alignment is a collaborative process that:

  • Brings teams together to understand strategy.
  • Helps individuals, through the lens of their team, begin to translate strategy into work.
  • Helps teams establish common purpose, focus, and direction.
  • Helps teams build work plans that make sense.

Execute Work that Links to Strategy

Execution is the culmination of strategy being translated to the expected business outcomes.  This is the ultimate goal for strategy in the first place. Simply, it means carrying out desired and critical work.

Execution is the team’s work and not the bailiwick of leaders.  Most books talking about execution focus on leaders.  The authors assume that leaders set the stage, motivate, and drive execution.  We agree with setting the stage, but after that, execution is all about workers owning their work, understanding it in the context of strategy, being responsible daily, and holding each other accountable.

Doing The Work Itself

The Work Itself was designed for teams to work together to align their work to the strategies of the organization. It requires cooperation, coordination, and communication.

The Work Itself Process is not a retreat from the daily realities of your job. Instead, it’s an opportunity to dig deeper into those realities and come out of the process with a realistic plan for making your greatest contribution and gaining the most satisfaction.

The Work Itself Process is not designed to complete a series of exercises. It is designed to develop and execute on “Real Work” plans—that make sense, that are aligned, and that change the way your teams work together to get results.

Objectives of The Work Itself Process

This is a work process, not training. This is all about focusing on the work you must do to serve the highest purposes of your organization and your personal standards of performance.  The following objectives will be reached during this process. We expect you to:

  1. Differentiate between Real Work and Fake Work.
  2. Identify Real Work tasks linked to strategies.
  3. Prioritize work tasks through the view of the team.
  4. Help team members perform Real Work tasks.
  5. Learn how to remove obstacles and get help.
  6. Take control of your work plans to accomplish tasks.
  7. Ensure that you and your team members have linked all work, measurements, and outcomes to strategies.
  8. Ultimately, reduce Fake Work and increase Real Work to drive organizational strategies into your daily work tasks.


The Work Itself Process brings the whole organization together to create common focus.  No single individual or group has the wisdom or ability to chart strategic action and carry it out successfully. To ensure that plans are sound, supported, and acted on; all human resources available to an organization must contribute to the process.

A work team is the place where strategy is successfully implemented. When each individual in each work team in an organization is focused on strategy, productivity increases, results are exceeded, and morale is high. Everyone benefits.

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