I was doing a leadership development program with managers and supervisors. The topic was time management. Before I started that particular module I said “before we get into this content what do you really want to get out of this segment?”
I was getting uncomfortable stares from a few people. One guy decides he is going to be the official group spokesperson. “well first of all I don’t think you understand how things are in this company.” He leans back in his chair with authority.
“So enlighten me.”
“Our boss says that there are 24 hours in a day and if it takes that long that is what it takes.”
“Ok” I say, “So what is your point?”
“No matter how hard we try and no matter what we do we have no control over our time.”
Other people join in:
“Yes- that is right- we run really lean here- not like other companies.”
“We are really busy.”
“The competition is fierce in our industry.”
“This place eats people up and spits them out.”
“I never get caught up.”
“No point getting caught up anyway- you just get more to do.”
“Do you have any idea how many emails we get a day?”
“Every time something changes- it changes again.”
“I work ninety hours a week.”
They all nod. It was as if the floodgates had opened and two years of complaining brackish backwaters came rushing out, all at once.
I smiled at them all and said “I understand, and I feel your pain. But if it makes you feel any better- this is what I hear from every client, everywhere , every week. All companies are lean, all are demanding and all are tough. If they aren’t they don’t last long.”
So this our esteemed leader, is what you people are feeling, what they are saying and the incredible stress they are under doing “more with less”. Buried within this message though is one that I think is even more important and critical– the lack of focus. People are spending lots of time working but I have come to believe based on observation that many people are working really hard but on too many things, the wrong things and things that don’t move the needle in terms of what we are looking for- results. It is as if we all have institutionally induced A.D.D. That is my diagnosis; so what is the solution?
Here are some tips to help your people get and stay focused.
- What is the goal? Many times I ask a group in class if their organization has goals for the year. “Of course.” they say. I then ask who can tell me what they are. I then get downcast looks, furrowed brows, and mumbled responses. Here is a statement that may genuinely shock you- most people do not know the goals of your organization, they have no clue. I am not implying you haven’t told them, but I am saying they lost focus on the goals amongst the three hundred e mails each day, the phone calls, meetings, the projects and the hundred other plates they have spinning on sticks, trying to keep them from crashing to the floor. So we have to remind people in many ways throughout the year about the company goals and the team goals. It may be in an email, a group meeting, a conference call or one on one, face to face. Make sure they know. They can’t hit a target if they don’t know what it is.
- Teach people how to manage their time. We assume adults know how to manage their time. Well here is another piece of shocking news- many don’t. We assume most people use some kind of time management system. Many don’t. In one class on time management I did a quick survey of each person in the class- I wanted to know what kind of time management system or tool they used. The answers were 1) Don’t use one at all 2) The company gave them one but they don’t use it 3) a legal pad (???) 4) a whiteboard well, you get the idea. People have to know there are tools out there- but they don’t use them or they don’t know how. ( OK be in denial if you want I am telling you this is a fact I see it all the time in my travels, and yes it amazes me too) So provide training on time management by coaching, having all team members read a time management book or bring someone in to teach them. Then hold all of them accountable for using some tool ( blackberry crackberry, blueberry just as long as they use something- and not a legal pad)
- Stop wasting time. Here is a question; why are people still having meetings that are a waste of time? Meaning there are meetings still held every day that 1) have no stated objective 2) are not time bound 3) have no agenda 4) have no one facilitating the meeting 5) are not actionable ( meaning we leave with a plan of who what where when and why) This is said to me by leaders who are conducting the meetings. They also say there are too many of them. So here is the deal- you have to set standards for meetings. Insist that all meetings have to meet those five criteria. Get people to ask if a meeting is really needed and could it be accomplished some other way. Lastly insist on punctuality. So many meetings get held up simply because people show up late.
- Stop abusing the open door policy. Once upon a time the open door policy actually made sense, in a different time and place. Now it is just a reason for people to be interrupted constantly. There has to be times when someone is not available- and they can actually focus on a project they are working on. Yes that also applies to people who work in cubes.( the infamous office with no walls)
If you follow these guidelines you can perform the true function of leadership; giving people guidance and support so they can really focus on what really matters- results.
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