Finding time to drive development and improvement

...and why time is available

You have a feeling of spending far too much time running the daily business and feel a lack of time to drive development and improvement initiatives?

This common frustration is partly rooted in your continuous hunt for delivering on current expectations and help team members overcome their challenges - to help them deliver.

Every day.

The reality is that managers and leaders are not spending too little time on improvements and development because of daily tasks and problem solving. There is a deeper cause behind which roots back to the manager’s or leader’s own focus and lack of clarity and vision for the specific areas where improvements or development are needed.

Along with the feeling of lack of time, there are a number of facts that most leaders also recognize:

#1 - Everybody wants to contribute to what is important

Colleagues, team members and employees in general go to work each day to help deliver on what is considered important. You can re-direct the focus of teams and colleagues through objectives, the use of KPIs, and the topics you discuss and address.

This implies, that if your team is not spending enough time and energy on developing the business, it’s most likely because no-one made it a priority.

As long as you bring daily topics to the table, dive deep into issues that should be resolved by your team, and keep asking to the performance of X, Y, and Z, that’s where your team will focus their energy.


If you make improving and developing the business a key theme on your agenda, if you make it important, and if you make it the first thing to discuss – it will be important. And people do want to contribute.

#2 - No-one is bored

I have never in my professional life experienced employees, staff members, team members, colleagues or customer employees stating that they had too little to do.

In a few private settings I have heard people talking about room for more tasks or too little value-adding tasks to do in their current jobs.

If you have ever experienced a need to reduce staff in your own team or in your organization, you may have observed that even with 10-20% reduction within a team (1 or 2 people in a team of 10), it most often manages to re-organize itself to continue delivering on the needs and expectations.

This is NOT meant as a suggestion to go and fire 15% of your staff, but it shows that in any team, there is always a certain level of flexibility, agility, and time to work on… improvement and development initiatives.

Additionally, when I have been leading development initiatives in teams full of day-to-day tasks and ‘stolen’ up to 1 day / week to support a specific project, things have worked out. People have found ways to do things smarter and they have on their own initiatives cut away non-essential tasks, whereby they have given themselves time to work on this improvement- or development initiative.

Finally: If you would hire one additional person to your team and give that person tasks covering ~50% of the time, the person will "magically" manage to fill up the working hours after some time around.

So here is the point:

If you - as the leader - bring an important initiative to the table, people do have room to contribute and help improve or develop the way things are done today in order to have an even better performance tomorrow.

#3 - Time allocated becomes time spend

I’m not a financial expert, but I have observed with curiosity how some companies release their annual report 12 weeks after closing the books, whereas other companies do it much faster.

The Global leader in the shipping industry, Maersk, release their annual report 40 days after closing of the books. That is less than 6 weeks and in the area of 30 working days excluding weekends. Their annual report of 151 pages include 3 full pages listing more than 150 subsidiaries and affiliated companies which are all consolidated into the overall group numbers reported to the stock exchange in that document.

Some companies spend 10+ weeks closing the books for one company, whereas Maersk manages to close the books in +150 companies AND add it all up in just 40 days.

That is only possible for one reason:

At some point, they have given themselves a hard deadline. And then gradually improved their performance to meet this sharp deadline over time.

I’m neither an IT geek.

But like most people in business, I guess we have seen or heard about the large IT projects running... forever.

And then I met this medium-size company who set themselves a 3-month deadline for implementing a new ERP system. ERP is the Enterprise Resource Planning system, which is the backbone IT system in most companies linking finance with all other functions including production, logistics and warehouses - in other words a massive change both for an IT team and for the organization using that system to run the business.

And they succeeded.

Some people call it time-boxing, which refers to the decision of putting a time box around a given task or project which helps focus on executing the stuff that matters, and reach the state where results are coming because of the changes made.

This approach helps avoid scope-creeping: The mushroom effect to a project without a deadline, where the project gradually grows in scope over time, and ultimately no result is achieved because it’s all messed up by too many ‘nice-to-have’ elements leading to lack of focus on the core of what really matters.

Put a deadline to the thing - it helps foucs.

Translating this into your leadership time

If you don’t put aside time to work with improvements and development, it will never come.

If you allow daily tasks and challenges to steer your calendar and agenda, development and improvement initiatives will never get in there.

And if you work with these 3 underlying drivers - and not let them work against you - you are off to the path of understanding what drives your own behaviour in the direction of daily tasks rather than driving improvement and development initiatives.


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