Unstylish Efficiency: On Delivering Substance Over Style

“The closest thing to a law of nature in business is that form has an affinity for expense, while substance has an affinity for income.” — Dee Hick, founder and former CEO of VISA.

“Don’t settle for style. Succeed in substance.” — Wynton Marsalis, American jazz musician.


Unstylish Efficiency: On Delivering Substance Over StyleIf you’ve been working in your chosen profession for more than a few years, then you’ve probably run into your share of co-workers who seem to value style over substance. To these individuals, perception trumps reality—and sometimes even defines it.

Remember comedian Billy Crystal’s stint on Saturday Night Live back in the 1980s? Among other things, he portrayed a smarmy talk show host who liked to say, “It is better to look good than to feel good. And dahling, you look…mahvelous!” That captures the nonsensical “style over substance” attitude in a nutshell.

Get Real

Beyond a certain basic level, style doesn’t matter one bit if you can’t deliver results at the end of the day. If you let style dominate your thinking, then you’ll eventually be revealed as the hollow shell you are…and may very well find yourself on an express elevator to the ground floor soon after. So start striving toward results! Even in the fashion industry, where style seems to reign supreme, only results really matter.

Buckle Down

How do you guarantee you can always deliver substance over style? You already know how: by focusing laser-like on maximizing your productivity at work. Sure, you need to look and act professional at all times and present a personable front—but don’t take it too far. Rather than waste time further developing your disguise, hone your time management skills. Get better at blocking out distractions and prioritizing your task lists and schedule. Test and stretch your boundaries until you exceed your previous limits of efficiency. In other words, do everything humanly possible to meet (and ideally beat) your deadlines and serve up the best-quality results you can. Even when the final goal seems near at hand, don’t slow down; accelerate! Refuse to slack off until you’ve passed your goal.

Lead With Authority

If you hold a management position, a results-oriented attitude becomes even more essential—because now you’ve accepted responsibility not only for your own results, but also for your team. You have to hold everyone’s feet to the fire, making them accountable for their individual results so that you can achieve yours. So lead by example, working harder and more efficiently yourself. Exercise effective communications skills in all directions, making yourself clearly understood while ensuring you understand what your subordinates are trying to tell you. Along the way, keep things as simple and straightforward as possible. Maintain a high level of personal interaction and enthusiasm too. Nothing stimulates performance and drives team results like confidence and exuberance on the part of the leadership!

Honesty = Honest Results

Be open with your people about the goals of the organization in general and the team in particular, so you can shape the best possible strategic alignment between corporate goals and employee effort. To accomplish this you’ll need to explain clearly what you expect of everyone, showing them how their efforts move the company forward.

Reward Lavishly

When you hit your mileposts and deadlines, celebrate! If you reward your people (and yourself) for performance, then you’re all more likely to produce the results you need—guaranteeing you avoid the bugbear of emphasizing style at the expense of substance.

I’m not saying you can’t spice up your work with your own distinctive style and flair. But that can only take you so far, because spice alone doesn’t make a meal. Without the accompanying substance of productive results, style becomes no more than empty calories—and ultimately leaves a bad taste in the mouth of everyone involved.