Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Hey, CEO: How Are You Spending Your Time?

Peter* is a CEO with an issue. He is losing the support of his board and struggling to engage his direct reports. While many people in the organization love him, he has difficulty gaining the loyalty of those closest to him. He wants to be a better CEO and to become a more balanced leader but he's stuck.

What did Peter do to become more mindful of his role as CEO?

While he is a capable, well-intentioned leader with talent and integrity, the daily challenges of running a large organization get in the way of things he knows he should be focused on.

Our solution? We had him journal to become more precisely aware of how he spent his time. Not a running narrative journal or a time billing journal and not a reflective journal, instead we asked him to complete a different sort of journal an activities journal. Read on to see the results.

Activities Journal Exercise:

Record activities as you do them and code them into three groups:

  1. "What" Activities
  2. "How" Activities
  3. "Why" Activities

“What” activities: Note all the times you spent energy giving people instruction in what to do. You are recording all the things you do to set and support business goals, get people to focus on what matters most; explain activities that drive results, and give direction to cascade accountabilities to all levels. This is how you shape what is to be done in your organization.

“How” activities: Make a note of all the times you gave people direction in the way things should be done. This includes outlining tasks, planning implementation steps, making decisions between alternatives, and allocating resources. These are the things you do to shape how outcomes are achieved when there are different paths to the same ends.

“Why” activities: Now note all the things you do to give people purpose and a reason to get work done. This includes communicating the values of yourself and the organization, building morale, providing recognition, catching people doing things right and encouraging effort. This is how you shape why someone would do the things you want.

It didn’t take Peter very long to see how out of balance his daily activities were. He spent a lot of time telling people what to do, almost as much time telling people how to do things, and very little time providing reasons for why people should want to do what they do.

A recent McKinsey study summarized the way many CEOs spend their time.

Operational decisions and short-term issues (what and how issues) take up nearly 40 percent of CEO's time, with ineffective time users spending nearly 50 percent of their time in this area. By comparison, managing and motivating people, providing a purpose along with setting direction and strategy (why issues) took up around 30 percent of a typical CEO's time, with ineffective time users spending only about 20 percent of their time in this area. The balance of time noted was spent managing external relations and checking performance against goals.

Poor Behaviors Skew Further When Stress Increases

This is very consistent with how we see leaders allocate their time. In particular, leaders spend more time on the whats and hows as events become stressful and resources like time and money become scarce. Leaders act as if spending time on purpose, recognition and other why issues should be the first things to cut back under stress.

Studies in fact show that the best leaders do the opposite by spending more time on communicating purpose and recognizing effort and less on outlining tasks and tactics. The best leaders follow the military maxim: “Show them the way and get out of the way.”

The Result
Like most CEOs, Peter was caught in the trap of spending too much time on the whats and hows and not enough time giving people the whys and a sense of purpose. His board, his direct reports and his staff all became more supportive, more engaged and more productive when Peter rebalanced his time allocation.

Next Step for You
Want to learn more? Contact us today. We can share more of the journal exercise format and tips with you and demonstrate how to get started.

*Peter is not his real name. But the situation and the results are real.

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