Thu | Sep 24, 2020

Is your company a time glutton?

Published:Sunday | April 13, 2014 | 12:00 AM

Francis Wade Sunday Business COLUMNIST

A recent article from management consultants McKinsey & Co makes a powerful case that executives aren't managing their time well, but adds that it's not their fault as individuals.

Instead, they have allowed their organisations to consume time as if it were an infinite resource. I call them 'time gluttons'.

A glutton is defined as someone who consumes immoderate amounts of food and drink. Corporations turn into time gluttons when they allow a culture to be created which requires rapidly increasing amounts of time from everyone to get the job done, including executives, managers, and professionals.

In other words, an environment has been created that is a taker - a personality we all abhor - as it consumes more, while offering nothing new in return. Not even training.

Like many complex problems that my colleagues and I see in corporate Jamaica, there's no individual to blame.

It's not a case of 'bad mind', malice, or evil intent. Instead, collective ignorance drives companies to manage their finances tightly, while treating time as if it's available in limitless amounts.

Here are some of the results from the article describing a survey of 1,500 global executives, revealing the details of this state of affairs in their lives:

Only 9% are satisfied with their current time allocation;

No more than 52% said that the way they spend their time largely matches their company's priorities; and

Almost half reported that they weren't spending enough time guiding their organisation's strategy.

To make things worse, the few companies that realise there is a problem leave the solution to the individual. As a result, a new manager ends up filling her days responding to incoming email and attending pre-scheduled meetings, having received no guidance whatsoever as to the optimal time usage for her position.

Unfortunately, no individual has enough clout to solve the problem instantly - it's bigger than they are.

This fact comes across clearly in my time-based productivity training, when attendees insist that their executives need to be in the programme. When executives do attend, they discover the need to slowly but steadily dismantle an unproductive culture that was created when no-one was looking.

Here are some of the steps the article describes to scale-down corporate time gluttony:

1. Assign time budgets

Too many companies add one initiative after another without considering the total effect they have on people's time.

As a result, the faithful few give up weekends, late nights, and early mornings in an attempt to feed the monster, hoping that it will go away. It doesn't, unless there are budgets for time that are as strict as financial budgets.

When time budgets are assigned, however, standards can be created for each key role, and also for priority initiatives.

In particular, strategic projects receive the necessary attention, as time spent working on them is measured against a plan. McKinsey found several companies that were effectively managing time budgets with great results.

2. Assign top-quality assistants

The survey showed that 85 per cent of the most effective executives had strong administrative assistants, but only 7 per cent of the weakest executives had the same.

The cost-cutting drive to provide less support can be detrimental if executives aren't provided new training and tools to compensate for the new demands. It's a classic case of 'penny wise, pound foolish'.

3. Require time balance

Executives need help to manage the balance among their key activities. The article states that too many leaders are surprised when shown data reflecting their actual time usage compared against their own estimates. They have no idea what high- quality time balancing looks like, as reported by the most effective survey respondents.

On average:

All of 24% of their time is spent alone;

38% of their time is spent in face-to-face meetings; and

Only 16% of their time is spent on emergencies.

Most executives don't have a clue what their ratios look like - they are usually 'too busy' to track their time.

One company's top team, which does track its time, implemented new rules around meetings, handing the job of culling them to the CEO's executive assistant.

4. Correcting ignorance

In today's business world, with its 24-7 demands, it's not good enough to simply be busy all the time. That's a given for anyone aspiring to the executive suite. Instead, the organisation needs to tackle issues like time usage, smartphone policies, and meeting scheduling - in their entirety - as a culture.

Left unchecked, the company's immoderate appetite for time will only increase, exacting an awesome cost from the lives of employees who believe that the current tempo is temporary.

It isn't. Reversal is only possible if the company stops treating time-based productivity as a personal issue and wakes up to the bigger, more terrifying picture.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and author. To receive a |document with a summary of links to past columns or give feedback, email