Managers, at all levels, like any other human being have only 24 hours a day and seven days a week available to them. And much like any other human being the key differentiating factor in the ability of a person to excel at what they do lies in the effectiveness they use this available time.
To be able to improve how well we use our available time, we first need to acknowledge what is it that unavoidably wastes our time, however does so while creating the sensation that nevertheless, we used our time well?
We tend to evaluate how well we used our time based on how occupied we are. So, basically if we are very occupied, doing many things and times just fly through our fingers it must be that we are using our time well, isn’t it. I mean, as well as we possibly can under the circumstances. Have you hers this claim before? Have you made it yourself? When we make this claim, what are we actually saying? That in spite of us using our time so well, the results were not too satisfying, isn’t it. Otherwise, why add “as well as we possibly can under the circumstances“?
Why is it that the circumstances lead to that reality? To a reality where the scarce resource – our time, is eventually misused? Consumed by “time thieves” that distracted our attention, derailed us from our tracks and led us to realize less than we expected?
The stand-to-reason response is – it because of the uncertainty of life. Too many things we did not expect to happen, nevertheless happened and mandated our attention then and there. We had to react, or else…. But is it really the case? Did we really had to react?
The answer to this question has two parts, the first is not in the scope of this article, so just to mention it – the nature of uncertainty is that it is certain. It is certain that uncertain things will happen. We know that, and if we did not know that, experience thought us that lesson. Is it not reasonable to expect good, experienced people prepare themselves for that? And the only way to do so, is by using protective buffers. Are we using them correctly? This is a subject for another article…
The second part of the answer – All of the “time thieves” originate from different sources, different stakeholders, each having their own view of the reality at that time and each having their own desired realizations at that time. In a sense, each one is looking at the Elephant from a different angle, seeing the part of the elephant exposed to them and making a demand based on that view. The decision maker is the integrator, receiving all of these inputs and responsible for sorting them out in view of the elephant as a whole. But can we do that? Do we know and have the confidence that the choices we make are the correct ones in this view? Do we see the whole elephant?
I believe we do not. If we did, one prevalent phenomena would (almost) not exist – the phenomena of constant and frequent shift of priorities. Therefore, the first key task for any manager is to have a priority system that sets execution priorities that are not only clear to the manager but also clear and provide confidence to all stakeholders that the priorities followed deliver the best performance to all. It is not easy, but it is possible to have such a system. Simple system, yet clear and powerful. The fact the mostly buffers already exist allows for setting an execution control system that guarantees the above mentioned conditions are met.
Now, managers are not only responsible for the current performance, they are expected to improve on that (increase sales, increase profits, reduce lead time, increase market share etc.) Here, again, there are many alternatives a manager can choose from to improve the performance of the system he is responsible for. Making the wrong choice here is a cruel time thief. As not only it wastes the managers time, not only it wastes the time of other people involved in the change process and not only it does not lead to the expected results but it also negatively effects people attitude towards change and their willingness to take part in future ones.
The problem is that mostly we do not have the clarity and confidence to make this choice, Out of the many alternatives we tend to choose a few, mostly by using a form of ranking process that identifies the “top” ones. Than we spread our attention between these alternatives and allow for our time and attention being stolen by them. At any given point of time, for a specific system, it is highly unlikely that more than one initiative is required for the next jump in performance. You can always try and imagine your system as a flow system, entry point -> Process -> Exit point, your performance depends on the smoothness of this flow. And, this flow is mostly obstructed, now, in one place.
Therefore, the second key task for any manager is to confidently choose initiatives that improve performance.Managers must be able to review all existing alternatives and know which one, if chosen now is dealing with the current biggest performance limitation and more than that, they also need to know what change will unavoidably realize this opportunity. Using the execution control system as the means for identification of the most common disturbances to performance allows for ensuring we make the choice to improve at the most appropriate performance limitation which is the most crucial choice we need to make.
Lastly, to grow from a manger to a leader, every manager need to have the skills to lead the others based on these choices.