I have given up asking people “are you busy” because the response is an automatic yes. Now, I just take it for granted that everyone is busy or feels that they are busy. That’s grand. But the deeper and more instructive question to ask is “what are you busy doing?” The answers to that question are much more interesting. Alex Mc Donnell is one of my colleagues in Tandem Consulting and an expert in operational excellence. He has that great ‘stand back’ ability, always asking: “What exactly is going on here?” As a question it seems deceptively simple. It’s not.
Internet Time: Let’s state the obvious for a moment. We live in Internet time – a compressed time warp where days seems like hours. The product life cycles for some products are measured in months. People are almost afraid to buy a piece of technology – because it will soon be replaced by version 193 which will have more features on display than UCI cinemas.
Busy Busy: So there is always change underway, stuff to do, the diary packed with events and various happenings. And, of course you have to add people into the mix. Even in well-managed organizations, problems with staff continually bubble to the surface. The rate of mental illness in the general community is estimated at circa 8% – so if you manage a large group you are impacted by that statistic. Customers are demanding, technology is changing, your direct reports are moaning and head office is putting on the performance squeeze. What’s an executive to do? The answer to that question is complex, so lets approach it from the opposite end. Here’s what you shouldn’t do.
Initiative Seduction: Faced with an increasingly packed agenda, most executives kick off a truckload of initiatives. Running here. Meetings there. Sometimes, going nowhere. Being maniacal can be attractive. Filling your electronic diary (is anyone still using paper?) with loads of seemingly important stuff can provide the illusion of progress. Executives zapp from conference calls to 1 on 1’s, sometimes with a retinue of junior staff in tow, getting the same buzz that medical consultants feel while being trailed by a bunch of junior doctors on a hospital round.
Organizational Model: The reference to medicine is a useful parallel. Doctors have an overall concept of human health, measured by the 4 vital signs. But many executives don’t have an equivalent ‘model’ of organizational health. They work on the ‘finger’ of the company and then dive down into a ‘toe’ project. It’s all good stuff right? Wrong. The only commodity that an executive can control is time. And your time is limited. You have to focus on what will make a real difference. Not minnow issues. Not running around doing busy work. You’re not paid to ‘go home tired’, like some over enthusiastic Boy Scout. Don’t confuse initiatives, no matter how worthy they might seem individually, with organizational change and sustained progress. It’s a common mistake. Focus on the Big 6 or Magnificant 7 (or some relatively small number of critically important issues). Then ignore everything else. When you try to please all stakeholders, you end up satisfying none of them. Have the intelligence to rank the critical items which you are going to focus on and the courage to say no to everything else. Don’t let your diary be dictated by everyone’s else’s needs.
PS: Bad news from across the pond. The US recession has hit everybody really hard.
a. My cousin got a pre-declined credit card in the mail.
b. Exxon-Mobil laid off 25 Congressmen.
c. I recently met a Mormon with only one wife.
d. My cousin had an exorcism but couldn’t afford to pay, so they
e. When Bill and Hillary travel together, they now have to share a room.
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