Stop spending +90% of your time on daily business

I often meet managers and leaders claiming that they spend far too much time running the daily business and feel they should spend more time on development and improvement initiatives.

This common frustration is partly rooted in the continuous hunt for delivering on current expectations, and consequently the felt necessity to dive into issues, engage in problem solving, and guiding team members on solving their problems.

Every day.

Why leaders and managers spend too little time on improvements and development

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 vision and specific areas where improvements or development is needed.

The facts that most leaders recognize are these:

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 often because YOU don’t make it important.

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.

In more straight words:

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.

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.

But in private settings, I have heard friends 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 also share this observation: With 10-20% reduction within a team, it most often manages to re-organize itself to continue delivering on needs and expectations.
This is NOT meant as a suggestion to go and fire 15% of your staff – there is always a need for flexibility, agility, variety in competencies and room to cover for… 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 speeded up certain daily tasks, they have found ways to do things smarter, and they have started cutting out non-essential tasks to give themselves the time to work on this improvement- or development initiative.

So here is the point:

If you 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.

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 7 weeks after closing of the books – that is 49 days or in the area of 35 working days excluding weekends. And that report of 151 pages include 3 full pages listing more than 150 subsidiaries and affiliated companies which are all consolidated into the group numbers. 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 7 weeks.

That is only possible for one reason: 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.
It helps avoid scope-creeping: The mushroom effect to a project without a dealine, 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.

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 to steer your calendar and agenda, development and improvement initiatives will never get in there.

…you can add the classical ones as well

Next to the 3 facts above, there are the famous quotes and sayings related to leadership, which also applies here: Leaders should walk the talk. Leaders should craft the vision that energizes the team etc.

These are all correct, valid and fits as well. But if you first of all understand the 3 underlying drivers described above, 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.

Driving improvements and development IS possible

There is only one person who can make improvements and development important: YOU have to make it important, and things will re-organize to the extent that healthy deadlines are to be met.

Setup a small meeting - with yourself, and work through this agenda:

How did you spend the last week – what topics were top of your agenda and your talks with peers, colleagues and team members? (Hint: Any Improvement- or Development initiatives?)

If you were forced to reduce your team’s hours / manpower by 10%, would/could things re-organize to still solve the daily tasks? Now, how could these ‘extra’ hours be spent since they are already there?

Do your initiatives have ‘hard’ (but realistic) deadlines – helping the team to focus on the essence only of what really matters - and avoid scope creeping?