I’ve never been much of a runner. In high school, I did participate on the track team for a couple of years but I focused on short races rather than long-distance events. I guess that’s why I’m pretty good at running to the bathroom but not much else. And even though I only competed in sprints, I still had to start each practice by running three miles with the rest of the team. I don’t know about you, but when I run farther than one-hundred yards, all I can hear is a voice in my head telling me how much I hate running farther than one-hundred yards. I suppose that means that I’m more of a “runner’s low” kind of guy.
Today, my knees are not in running shape. I can still dash through an airport when I’m about to miss a flight but my days of playing pickup basketball and running hurdles are over. I do like walking though, and when I walk, I feel like I get two different benefits. I get to enjoy the beautiful scenery that surrounds our mountain home and I get a little bit of exercise. Isn’t it a bonus when we can engage in one activity but get multiple outcomes? I think this is something that we can do more often, especially at work.
Recently, I got a call from a meeting planner in a non-profit organization who was considering me for their emcee at an event she was planning. The purpose of the event was to honor first responders in their community and to also act as a fundraiser for the non-profit organization. While discussing the event, we came up with a new twist on the idea. Instead of just raising funds for the non-profit organization, we thought it would be cool if they donated a portion of those funds to the first responders they were honoring. This would be a great way to generate three benefits from one event.
I first learned about this idea of accomplishing multiple benefits when I visited Southwest Airlines over a decade ago. I had met Mary McMurtry at a conference and learned that she was part of the human resources department at Southwest Airline’s east coast hub in Baltimore. Since I lived near DC, I made a trip to her office so I could see the funky culture of Southwest Airlines in person. One of their practices made a big impact on me.
Many organizations plan social events such as cookouts, happy hours, and birthday celebrations. However, it can sometimes be a challenge to pay for these activities—especially in non-profit organizations like the ones in which I worked. Southwest Airlines had a great solution. As an example, when Mother’s Day was approaching, the folks on their Fun Committee would purchase a bulk supply of flowers and then resell them to the employees, making a small profit. Then, they would donate half of the profit to the airline’s official community charity and the other half to the Fun Committee to pay for future events. By doing this, they not only provided a resource to employees (the flowers for Mother’s Day), but they also supported a local charity and had money for more cookouts, parties, and other employee events.
I think this is brilliant. And this approach is not limited to out-of-the-box organizations like Southwest Airlines.
A few weeks ago, I worked with a large group of nursing leaders at Northwell Health in New York. They met to generate ideas for improving the care and efficiencies in their healthcare system. Over two days, they held activities that encouraged brainstorming, creative thinking, problem solving, etc. One day, they undertook a team-building activity that involved putting together care bags that needed to be both attractive and neatly packaged. The team that did the best job in putting together these bags was given a prize. But here’s the cool thing about this activity—the care packages were then delivered to the pediatric units within their health system. So, once again, they accomplished two wonderful benefits from one effort.
Another example comes from my former Rotary club which had one of the best combined service efforts I’ve ever seen. For a couple of weekends before Christmas, our members would help ring the Salvation Army bell at kettles in front of a local grocery store. As you probably know, the money collected in these kettles is used to support the Salvation Army’s many community service programs. But then, someone in the Rotary club came up with a brilliant way to add another benefit to this effort. As shoppers approached the store, they were given a list of personal care items such as toothpaste, socks, shampoo, and diapers. The shoppers were asked to consider buying one of these items while they were in the store. As they came out, Rotary members collected the items and then delivered them to the local homeless shelter. So, the Salvation Army benefited from the bell ringing and the shelter benefited from the multitude of personal care items that were collected each day. It was a win-win.
A common phrase in the work world is “do more with less.” But I wonder if we can’t also “do more with the same?” When we have so many activities competing for our limited time, it’s a bonus when we find a way to accomplish more than one outcome with any particular task. It’s not the same as doing two things at once, or so-called multitasking, but instead, it’s about finding more than one benefit from the activity in which we’re already engaged. The more often we can find ways of multiplying our efforts, rather than duplicating them, the more efficient we become and the greater the impact we can have.
I may no longer run sprints around a track, but I do take advantage of walking to enjoy the scenery and to get a little bit of exercise. When you do what you do, how might you appreciate more than one benefit from any specific activity? Take a run at it and see what can happen.