CAUSES OF FAKE WORK: Paths to Real Work

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

Automotive Aftermarket Products Expo
The Venetian Hotel
Venetian/Palazzo Congress Center Level 1
Marco Polo Room 701-706
Las Vegas, Nevada

The Ice Man

A Scandinavian Television advertisement for Statoil’s coffee illustrates our point about Fake Work. The ad shows an executive (the iceman) coming out to his urban apartment building at the beginning of the workday. When he arrives at his street parked car, he finds it completely covered in new overnight snow and ice. He puts his briefcase down and gets to work cleaning the snow and ice from his car. He struggles, slips, bangs, and pushes ice and snow even using his briefcase and credit card to remove the snow. Finally, the car is clean. He reaches in his pocket, hits the button on his key to unlock the door, and the lights come on and the doors unlock on the identical car in the space in front of the car he just cleaned. He had cleaned the wrong car.

Did the Ice Man work hard? Did he have a sense of purpose? Was his work fake? The answer to all of these questions is yes. He worked hard, he had a sense of purpose, but he did Fake Work by cleaning the wrong car. He had accomplished the wrong outcome.

fw-book-mdFake Work is the activity that workers participate in that does not advance their company’s strategic goals or intent.  We have found that Fake Work looks like work to employees and supervisors—Fake Work may even feel like real work—and it costs just as much.     

When workers do not know or understand strategy and the processes required to implement it, they are likely to end up doing Fake Work. A large percentage of employees confess to dedicating weekends and long nights to projects, proposals, or presentations that end up being Fake Work.

The research from Peterson and Nielson indicates that across all the companies they studied, half of all the “work” people did had nothing to do with their company’s strategy.  A stunning 50% of the employees’ output was Fake Work!  A lot of this work was time-consuming and/or difficult, but it did not advance their company’s strategy.

Rethink the work that is being done in your offices, cubicles, PDC’s, and manufacturing facilities. Each executive, manager, supervisor, team leader, office worker and production worker could be making a push to avoid Fake Work and make their work contribution relevant and real.

Avoid Fake Work

 Fake Work is not biased toward a labor category. Union, non-union, supervisors, managers, directors, executives, and even senior level executives can all fall victim to tasks and work streams that are not in alignment with their company’s strategic intent.

Many managers know about the meaningless tasks and useless meetings, but the real horrors lurk behind long projects, ill-defined jobs, and seemingly important “time sensitive” work that contribute no value or produce results that contribute nothing to the attainment of the strategic intent.

“Managers are a primary cause of Fake Work because their role is, by design, to serve as a conduit for meaning. Strategies and results flow through this conduit, and Fake Work comes out the other end when information is translated incorrectly, ignored, or not passed on at all.”

Every employee in your company has some role in communications, decision-making, oversight, effectiveness of management, or overall success.  Your employees cannot maximize their contribution if they don’t understand the big picture.

Six Fake Work Trends in the Automotive Aftermarket

  1. The costs of Fake Work are enormous. Margin pressure and low-cost country competition in the light-duty aftermarket will continue for the foreseeable future.
  2. Aftermarket manufacturers are facing a market with no real growth and over-capacity. As companies streamline, the need for their workers to be more self-reliant is immense.
  3. To win, we must build capabilities that are valuable to the channels or end customers. This is a very challenging and nebulous goal, which can result in uncertainty and misdirection. This confusion provides the murky environment where Fake Work thrives.
  4. Growing SKU complexity and channel partners’ desire for shorter lead times are challenging aftermarket organizations. Long hours often indicate a team is off track or a pattern of misdirected focus.
  5. The need for major investments in IT, skills, and know-how to build advantaged capabilities can create exhaustive efforts that are often misdirected and costly.
  6. A strategy for delivering tangible value improvement to customers is important but can lead to Fake Work when the workforce is not strategically literate.

The Key Causes of Fake Work






Failing to Clarify and Cascade the Strategy from the Top to BottomWhen a company’s employees do not understand the strategy and the processes that will be required to implement it, Fake Work will occur.  A huge cause of Fake Work begins when leadership creates and develops strategic documents that are not translated into the offices, cubicles or the factory floor where the work occurs.



Can Often Cause

Failing to Focus and Prioritize:  Out of the many things they do at work, what are the critical things that they must be doing to contribute to the achievement of the strategic objectives? There is a lack of clarity about focus.
Operational Silos: Work groups failing to communicate about the right things. Any time the wrong work is being done—the wrong schedule, the wrong focus, the wrong project, or the wrong amount of effort— lack of communication is one of the causes.  Poor communication between divisions, units, departments, and teams is one the root causes for Fake Work.



Can Often Cause

Blinders – Failing to See the Execution Gap—Alignment, then Execution:  You can have an excellent strategy, however if everyone is misaligned to that strategy, Fake Work ensues.  Researchers estimate that 80 percent of all change processes fail due to poor implementation.  First, ascertain whether an investment in time or money is effective, then endeavor to refine its efficiency.


Randomness of Activities and Initiatives: Variance from the strategy by second and third-tier management executives creates Fake Work.  The randomness that they introduce almost always dilutes strategic intent and makes the company less effective.


Can Often Cause

Failing to Understand the Expected Results:  Many employees do not fully understand the results that are to be achieved from their work contribution. There is a lack of clarity about measurements.
Managers Failing at Information Distribution:  Managers can be a primary cause of Fake Work because their role is to serve as a conduit for the translation of meaning.  When managers attempt to interpret strategy in a vacuum, they almost always change its meaning and unknowingly introduce variability into execution.



Can Often Cause

Failing to Understand Their Real Job:  Simply put, do individuals know what they should be doing and why your company needs them to be doing it?  An individual’s understanding of strategic context is created almost exclusively through interactions with their manager.

Seven Paths to Real Work

  1. People:  Understand that people do both Real Work and Fake Work.  Help your workers understand the importance of their doing Real Work and speaking up against Fake Work.
  2. Thinking:  Change how you think about Fake Work.  Too often we don’t take the idea of Fake Work seriously.  We don’t realize that half the work our employees complete is not making a difference for the company.  You should think about eliminating Fake Work.
  3. Evaluation:  Do you do Fake Work?  Many of us think that everyone else in the company is doing the Fake Work.  Evaluate yourself. Are you doing Fake Work when you could be doing Real Work?
  4. SAE Model:  Understand and live by the SAE Model.  Do you understand Strategy, Alignment and Execution?  Do you know the strategy of your organization?  Is your work aligned with the strategy?  Are you executing the strategy?
  5. Communication:  Communicate effectively with your co-workers.  Again, people do the work.  People generally do what they are told.  Are you telling, talking, and explaining properly what Real Work each employee should be doing?
  6. Teams:  Develop Real Work teams.  Are you allowing your work teams to become real as they align their work with the strategy of the organization?  When you allow work teams to align their work with strategy, Real Work and execution always occur.
  7. Work Processes:  Fix Fake Work processes and procedures.  Each organization has many reports, meetings, and work activities that are not necessary and are simply Fake Work.  Review all work processes and eliminate those that are fake and unnecessary.

Fake Work – A Case in Point

For years, we worked with a large manufacturing company; historically the company had done fairly well.  However, the bottom line results could have been much better if the manufacturer had understood the tremendous amount of Fake Work that its employees were doing.  Some of the issues plaguing this company included:

  • Ineffective Organizational Communication: There was little or no communication between divisions, plants, and departments.  Consequently, many projects and initiatives being completed in one department were counterproductive to other departments.  We found unbelievable duplications and inefficiencies that could have been corrected with better communication.  There were many silos that did not know what the other silo was doing.
  • Unnecessary and Ineffective Meetings: Over the years there were many mandated meetings that were required by the company.  Many of those meetings were simply not needed.  However, they continued because the company had mandated them.  Meetings that needed to be held and could have been productive were poorly managed and mostly a waste of time for all participants.
  • Complete and Total Strategic Illiteracy: Generally the senior leaders of this company knew the strategy but less than ten percent of the rest of the company could list a single strategic goal.  The company was illiterate regarding the senior leaders’ strategy.
  • Lack of Individual Alignment: Employees within individual work teams had no idea what they could or should be doing.
  • Fake Work Culture: This company culture was to “keep busy and look like you’re doing something important.”  The culture led some employees to give the appearance of hard work while doing what was not needed.  Even though a new product system had inherent design flaws, produced high defect rates, and was going to be abandoned, they kept building it and the workers all appeared productive.
  • Fake Work Policies and Procedures: Many policies and procedures were driving Fake Work.  For example, a weekly production report took about an hour each week to complete by each participating employee.  But only one small piece of the data was captured from the report and utilized by the company.  The data that the company actually used would have taken each employee only five minutes to produce–instead of an hour.

For more information regarding how you can eliminate fake work and do more real work in your company contact:

Brent D. Peterson, Ph.D.

PetersonGillespie, LLC

801 362-5643

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