As a leader, I have a couple of critical questions for you to consider:
- Do you allocate enough time for planning so that you feel you can stay ahead of the many challenges that come your way?
- If, like many others, your answer to the previous question is, “No!”, what does this cost you, your team and the organization?
In this article, I’d like to explore some recent research on this particular topic, a model for evaluating how you spend your time and a perspective that will reinforce the reality that making time for reflection and preparation will greatly enhance your productivity and accelerate the wisdom you obtain from your leadership experiences.
Bruce Tulgan is the head of Rainmaker Thinking, and I have followed his thought leadership on issues of management effectiveness and inter-generational conflicts for several years. His recent white paper, The Under-Management Epidemic Report 2014 …Ten Years Later (PDF) states that over 10 years of tracking how engaged employees are, they have found that managers are not engaged in providing supervisory authority consistently on what they refer to as the “management basics”.
These include setting performance expectations, providing support and guidance, monitoring and measuring performance, providing regular feedback about performance and allocating rewards in proportion to actual performance. They have shifted their focus on what causes employees to not be engaged by zeroing in on the lack of managers regularly performing these “management basics”.
The costs of this Under-Management Epidemic are:
- Unnecessary problems occur.
- Small problems that should have been solved with relative ease instead get worse before they are identified and solved.
- Resources are squandered and managers and employees spend time salvaging resources and acquiring substitute resources.
- Employees fail to do tasks according to established best practice for extended periods of time before anybody realizes it.
- Low-performers are not identified or held accountable.
- Mediocre-performers often mistake themselves for high-performers.
- High-performers suffer diminished morale and are more likely to leave their jobs voluntarily.
- Managers spend more time performing lower level tasks that should have been delegated to a direct-report.
I would encourage you to visit Bruce’s site and review his findings in depth. The key question we all need to ask ourselves, especially if this type of a situation seems to really resonate with your world of work, is what is the primary cause for this happening to us all? According to the Rainmaker article:
The vast majority of managers still site lack of time (due mostly to other non-management responsibilities and increased spans of control) as the number one reason why they don’t more consistently practice the basics of management.
In my executive coaching practice, one of the very first things I do with each client is have them examine how they spend their time. I’m still trying to figure out how to help my clients get more than 24 hours in a day, but thus far I have been unsuccessful.
The problem is that due to the economic challenges of recent years, downsizing, increased responsibilities and a tight labor market that creates a legitimate sense of fear on the part of current job holders, we have a tsunami of factors that have made the jobs of managers and leaders even more complex and difficult.
In the time analysis my clients do, I utilize this matrix from the work of Stephen Covey in his book, First Things First.
Some brief highlights of this model:
Urgent / Important: These are key things we have responsibility for and probably others are dependent on us for that have a near-term time sensitivity. Beware that they can feed your “urgency addiction” that is fueled by adrenaline.
Urgent / Unimportant: These are some meetings, communications and events that are important to others but perhaps less critical directly for you. They are not as important to you in terms of the goals you are responsible for. We often attend meetings or read unimportant email out of habit or a sense of duty without really considering the cost / benefit use of our time.
Non-Urgent / Unimportant: Never mind – even Covey says that reasonably productive leaders spend very little time here.
And now for the most important quadrant of the four:
Non-Urgent / Important: This is where the rubber hits the road in terms of making your mark as a leader. Here are the critical things that occur in this quadrant:
- Preparing for meetings, presentations and customers;
- Planning for initiatives, budgeting, performance reviews and feedback, implementing new processes;
- Prevention of mistakes by attention to process and an investment in training;
- Relationship Building – getting to know and build trust with key constituents inside and outside of your organization;
- Empowerment – if you want to empower your team, it takes a lot of work to clarify boundaries, expectations, review cycles and performance metrics. It doesn’t just happen because you want them to be empowered.
I have to tell you that this time analysis is not that difficult to complete. What makes improvements in the use of your time difficult to actualize are the tough choices you have to make to get there.
The most important thing I try to help my clients with is to identify what they need to stop doing. Because of the pressure and the fears that impact our world of work, this is not easy. But there are a couple key things that I would like you to consider as you contemplate where your time goes, based upon this matrix, and how you can get more productive use of your time.
Each morning I try to take a few minutes a day for some inspirational reading. I have a book of daily meditations from a Catholic priest whose work I admire and I also have a book of daily Zen readings that I find quite insightful as well. As I was contemplating this blog post, here was that day’s reading:
Good friends, how then are meditation and wisdom alike? They are like the lamp in the light it gives forth. If there is a lamp there is light; if there is no lamp there is no light. The lamp is the substance of light; the light is the function of the lamp. Thus, although they have two names, they are not two. Meditation and wisdom are also like this. – Hui-neng (638-716) Platform Sutra of the Sixth Patriarch (365 Zen, Jean Smith, p.291)
Now I don’t want to get all “Zen” on you, but this particular quotation reflects one of the worst challenges of the current work world. That is we make no time for reflection (meditation) so we can learn from what we are experiencing (wisdom).
I have a tremendous amount of empathy for leaders in this incredibly fast paced world that we live in. I am not advocating daily meditation at work, although I certainly don’t believe it would hurt anything, but here are a couple key things I would like for you to consider to better engage your staff and provide more satisfaction for you:
- Set time aside on Thursday afternoon to plan for the following week. Don’t do it on Friday, Sunday night or certainly Monday morning when it’s too late. By setting aside at least 30 minutes to contemplate the key things that are on the calendar for the following week you have time on Friday to begin planning meetings and work to make them happen. Jealously guard this time on your calendar and make time the following day to begin the follow-ups you have identified.
- As a leader, your time is a very precious commodity. I want you to make a ruthless analysis of all the meetings you attend and all the email that you sort through. Can you ask for notes from the meetings you can’t attend or can you delegate someone to go for you? If you fail to read someone’s weekly report three weeks in a row, chances are you can just skip it. If you subscribe to newsletters you once thought would be fun to read in your spare time but don’t, unsubscribe now.
That’s all you may have time for in the short run. If you can put some energy into doing these things you will get a more highly engaged team and more time for you to do the planning and preparing that you know will make your work more productive and fulfilling. Once you have some success with this, PLAN to stop and enjoy your growth as a leader.
I look forward to your comments.