Pet Projects Can Stifle Productivity

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PETWe?ve all heard about Google’s GOOGL +0.52% 20% time, an allotment of time given to each employee designed to encourage them to pursue passion projects that could yield big results. Likely the most famous product to come out of 20% time is Google News, a news aggregator that pulls in headlines and story snippets from around the world, organized by geography, topic and prioritized by timeliness.

When observing this practice, many small businesses attempt to mimic a similar practice in their own organization. A number of years ago, our company, which was then a small 15-person technology firm, followed suit encouraging each team member to propose a special project of their choosing. We supported those involved with monthly check-ins to instill a modest sense of accountability.

Feeling very utopian, there was really no limit to the types of projects people could pursue. In fact, rather than projects, several people chose tangential career paths. Staff were in effect assuming new responsibilities in areas that the company needed to cover but didn?t yet have the bandwidth to do so. These efforts were welcomed, and in fact, greatly appreciated as we highly valued the level of initiative that was being demonstrated.

So how could this possibly go wrong?

Special Projects Turned Into Full-Time Jobs

In hindsight, turning special projects into full time positions was not the best idea, but a lesson we needed to learn as we continued to grow. While I?d like to say this happened only once or twice, compelling arguments for any number of job descriptions and their related activities were submitted for my consideration. Each employee presented their proposal with great care and enthusiasm. Not surprisingly, many of these roles centered around marketing activities, which admittedly, we could have been doing more of or at least dedicating greater resources to at the time.

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