Time: Fighting the forces of gravity

fighting gravityOur shared experience

Almost every organization on the planet faces one common issue…how to maximize time. Both leaders and the employees they serve feel the demands far outstrip their capacity to deliver. Time productivity enhancement methods have failed to significantly impact the gap. The inability to manage time has significant consequences on employee productivity, morale, engagement, innovation, quality improvement and ultimately profitability. For most organizations, employee time is the most expensive item in the budget.

Most people start their days wondering how they will survive the onslaught of demands. There is little time available for quality thinking and significant improvement…the focus is on doing the immediate. But focusing on the short term robs long term sustainability, competitiveness and growth. It is a modern day conundrum that defies resolution.

In my work I find that CEOs spend too little time managing their organization’s work agenda. The most common ailment is an over focus on the short term at the expense of the longer term strategy. One of the unintended consequences is that it creates frenetic activity, unnecessary stress and diminished decision-making capacity. Organizations hire the best and the brightest…and then don’t give them the opportunity to think and do the organization’s most important work. This sucks the life out of the organization.

Part of the issue can be traced back to the increasing challenges faced by CEOs. Shareholders demand instant gratification. Investment has become a short-term sport. This makes the balancing of critical organization paradoxes such as invest vs. take profits, core vs. new business, explore vs. exploit harder to successfully achieve. As a result, the loud and rapid drumbeat of the immediate supersedes the quiet pace required to accomplish the leadership strategic work. It is as if we are constantly fighting the unseen force of gravity. But as noted above, caving to the natural inclinations is costly to individuals, organizations, and to the country.

Objective: Fight the forces of gravity

Here are two approaches to help CEOs more effectively ensure that the most important work of the organization is accomplished.

Make it part of each person’s agenda

Employees have the opportunity of accomplishing three types of work.

Individual contributor work

Work that is typically accomplished alone, that requires previous subject-matter education, training, and professional experience. The individual’s competence and ability to control how the work is completed provides a sense of self-satisfaction when completed.

Manager work

Peter Drucker identified this work as hiring/firing, allocating resources and time, providing performance feedback, answering questions, and providing short term direction. It ensures that expectations will be fulfilled. Manager work is hard wired. People leave, budgeting has a cycle, and people ask for support. Most people prefer to avoid manager because they feel less competent to accomplish the work and because it is emotionally laden.

Leader work

Leader work is about creating instability. It is longer term, fraught with uncertainty, requires for many a new/different skill set. It has a much slower drum beat and payoff. Leader work is where the long term sustainability and gold are. It is here that employees often find meaning. AND because of its complexity, the natural force of gravity is to avoid it.

Idea: Include leader work in each person’s performance appraisal to ensure that it gets the attention it deserves. Tie it to your strategic plan and the budget. Make leader work part of the company culture by creating the processes and language to expect this work. Take some of the risk away.

Provide the language and tools to do the work

Finance people use formulas, Excel spreadsheets, and accounting principles to accomplish their work. Operations people use forecasting methods, quality improvement methodologies, and metrics to plan and evaluate their performance. Engineers use scientific formulas, computer programs, and industry standards to guide their work.

What tools and methods do leaders use? Most organizations have not developed a common platform for undertaking this work. Thus the act of leading is like trying to pull a nail from a 2 X 4 without a hammer. If you are using your hands it can become bloody work. Unless there is a common language, set of practices, and tools to universally make it easier to accomplish the leadership work, it is likely that the leadership work will fail. 60-90% of projects fail to meet their objectives.

Idea: Put in place new language, processes tools/methods/forums to make it easier for your people do the leadership work.