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« Time Bandits – Managing Corporate Time - Part 2 | Main | Time Bandits – Managing Corporate Time - Part 4 »

Time Bandits – Managing Corporate Time - Part 3

Manage Activities, Not Time

“most of our future lies ahead” –

                                   Denny Crum

Time issues are really people issues.  We are all given the same amount of time to accomplish tasks in a given day, but look at the differences in what is accomplished!  But when we talk of managing time we are really talking about managing activities – time is a constant and therefore can’t truly be managed.  Instead we manage our activities within a certain amount of time.  This amount of time could be 30 minutes, a day, a week, a lifetime.  And since an organization is really just a group of individuals working together, what that organization accomplishes is literally the sum of what its people can accomplish acting together.

Think of individual and corporate time by imagining this:  As children of a wealthy family we’ve just been handed the equivalent of more than a half million dollars to spend over the next year.  But we are not really given the dollars; each of us individually is given 525,600 fresh minutes every January 1st.

But starting with the same number of minutes each year, look at the vast difference in what people can accomplish with these minutes.  Some people start new companies, make millions, patent new inventions, earn master’s degrees and win Nobel Prizes with their minutes.  Others are lucky to find a matching pair of socks with their minutes.  Some people are always busy yet accomplish little, while others are always on top of the world.  Organizations are exactly the same.

As an organization, you purchase about 125,000 minutes of this time annually from each full-time employee.  If you have 10 full-time employees you have about 1.2 million minutes to accomplish your goals.  If you have 100 employees, you have about 12.5 million minutes to invest.

For the most part, you don’t control how this time is consumed.  Each minute ticks off whether you like it or not.  Therefore your organization must get the most for every minute in the bank, or the Time Bandits will certainly rob you of it.

A poorly designed organization can be compared to playing tennis with snowshoes on.  It can be done but it isn’t easy.  Those snowshoes are the hierarchy, the bureaucracy, the attitude of “we’ve always done it that way…” that are the death knell of companies that refuse to change.  Take them off!  Burn them!

Back in 1823 at the Springfield Armory in New England, Thomas Blanchard introduced lathes capable of turning out standardized parts for army muskets.  This invention led to the death of the individual craft tradition and the rise of American economic might based on mass production.  But the standardization and specialization that grew out of the mass-production mentality soon spawned bureaucracy and sluggishness.  And just about all the intelligence was taken out of an individual worker’s job.

It continued pretty much the same way for the past 180 years.  But now we need to bring back that intelligence, and with it an obsession with time.  Business texts are filled with cases of companies who all but strangled on their own internal systems – where the mass mentality grew until it took weeks and dozens of pieces of paper just to enter new orders.

The biggest, baddest Time Bandit that ever was is BUREAUCRACY.  It holds organizations ransom with detailed policies, complicated procedures, lengthy paper trails, decisions by committees and all sorts of meaningless internal measurements that do nothing but add lead weights to the snowshoes.  Bureaucracy carries out a theft that is the costliest of all – it robs employees of a sense of empowerment.  Empowering your employees translates directly into saved time and higher profits.

The design and shape of our organizations is one of the largest problems with American business today.  Look around and you will find scores of frustrated CEO’s who cannot make their organizations respond, who cannot make them do the things that need to be done – because the combination of layers and bureaucracy simple defeat them.  That kind of heavily layered, systematized organization wears you out, or waits you out – or both.

You cannot work effectively within an organization like that.  And so you must change it.  You must put responsibility back where it belongs, at the level where the work happens.  Driving down the level of responsibility to each individual employee encourages those closest to the day-to-day problems to solve them (remember the example of the Order of Magnitude Rule).  But this kind of empowerment also must carry with it the fundamental promise of no second guessing by management.  And an added bonus is that you can use this process to begin identifying and growing better managers throughout your organization.

The payoff?  Vastly improved on-time service, delivery, and reliability.  Why?  95% (or more) of all your people really want to do their job.  And that same 95% knows what must be done.  By empowering them to make decisions, they’ll be telling themselves that their job, the personal future, will be damaged if a job isn’t done right or on time – an excellent incentive program.

Following are some of the symptoms caused by rigid organizational bureaucracy.

  1. Floundering – failure to focus attention and efforts in a single direction
    1. The Cause:  Lack of clear cut goals, or too many departmental goals
    2. The Cure:  Crystallize corporate goals.  Write them down and display them prominently.  Focus on doing a few things very well rather than many things but only mediocre.
  2. Wheelspinning – Feeling busy but accomplishing little or nothing
    1. The Cause:  Getting behind schedule because of the need to service rigid systems and hierarchies and their attendant paperwork.
    2. The Cure:  Pause and calmly survey the situation.  Simplify or eliminate any and all systems that do not add value to your goal of customer satisfaction.  Prioritize activities so the most critical get done first.
  3. Firefighting – Living in a state of perpetual crisis
    1. The Cause:  Neglecting tasks due to lack of planning and goals.  Be aware, many managers (and far too many owners) can unknowingly become addicted to fire fighting.  They like the excitement, the pleasure of putting out the fire.  And if there aren’t any fires, they go out and start a few.
    2. The Cure:  Schedule time for planning on a daily and weekly basis – think fire prevention, not fire fighting!  For those who need the fix, break that addiction – get excitement and adrenalin rush from other areas of your life, not the “fun” of organizational chaos.  Sorry, but a fine-tuned, well running organization is in many ways boring.  This is a good thing.
  4. Indecision – Procrastination; waiting for someone else to make a decision.
    1. The Cause:  Lack of employee empowerment; lack of management trust.  Unfortunately, human nature.  For many wholesalers who are sitting on the fence regarding selling their business, they are simply waiting for someone else or something else (the marketplace) to make the decision for them.
    2. The Cure:  Get tough with your organization.  Simplify.  Rip out excessive structure.  Push decision making to the lowest level, then trust your people to act correctly.  Here’s a simply management rule – waiting to make a decision makes sense if there is the chance that additional information may be coming.  If not and you have all of the information you are likely to get, make the decision and move on.  Then adjust as required.  It is easier to change the direction of a moving ball than it is to get it moving in the first place.  And once it is moving you gain by receiving feedback – something you never get if you don’t get the ball moving in the first place.
  5. Rehashing – Dwelling on past problems or accomplishments
    1. The Cause:  Unwillingness to deal with the present
    2. The Cure:  Don’t concern yourself with your “trail”, or with what might have been.  Let the past go and concentrate of what is, and on what can be.

Remember, each on of you is purchasing millions of minutes each and every year.  For the most part you can’t put them in the bank, they tick by whether you like it or not.  Those organizations that flourish get a lot for their minutes.  Those that flounder often get very little for their minutes.  Which would you rather be?  Then take charge of your future and become that company!

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