“No problem can withstand the assault of sustained thinking.” ~Voltaire
We have only to look at the hassled faces of today’s senior executives and scan their daily calendars to realize the majority of time is spent in back-to-back meetings. Meetings often start early in the morning and end late in the evening, with executives running from one to the next, barely taking time for toilet. It’s not that meetings are inappropriate places to conduct executive level business and well conducted meetings can accomplish a lot. Our concern is that too often meetings are not used for arriving at decisions, collective debate or alignment, but are hijacked by time wasting activities that add little value to the product or the customer.
A 2004 article in the Harvard Business Review by Michael C. Mankins entitled Stop Wasting Valuable Time (HBR, Sept. 2004) cites some startling statistics about the use of time among the senior executive team. Analysing the meeting diaries of senior team members from 187 companies worldwide (with market capitalizations of at least $1B).
“The typical company’s senior executives spend less than three days each month working together as a team – and in that time they devote less than three hours to strategic issues.”
What hijacks the majority of the time they spend together in meetings? According to Mankins valuable time is wasted by unstructured processes that address business critical issues in an undisciplined manner. While he introduces examples of seven techniques that can bring some discipline, consistency and effective decision making into senior executive meetings, he stops short of looking at the entire senior team as a system and examining their leadership processes in a robust way.
When processes are ad hoc and undocumented, valuable executive team time is taken up either with explanations or debates on issues which, if the leadership processes were effectively designed, documented and adhered to, would never make it on the agenda. More time would then be available for quality discussion, quality thinking and decision making. In an HBR article entitled Real Work, published in 1989, Abraham Zaleznik writes:
“Whatever else the real work of leadership involves – and it is constantly changing – it always involves one crucial component. That component is thinking.”
I believe that better designed leadership processes at the top will actually free up senior management time for more quality thinking – alone and together – in their important role as stewards of the company. If we can improve the amount of quality thinking time senior leaders have, we can also reduce their dependence on outside consultants – after all, who knows more about the company, its strengths, the culture, its customers and the overall business than the senior team? Being able to spend quality time talking together about their business and also have more time for individual thinking can have an enormous impact on the success of the enterprise.
Efficient and well designed leadership processes can release valuable time for quality thought and debate about real business issues.
Did you ever stop to think, and forget to start again? ~Winnie the Pooh
Tight Lines . . .