I constantly hear from executives and employees that they have way too much work to do and can never seem to catch up and actually do their jobs. After years of watching this behavior and analyzing the root causes, I have concluded that there is plenty of time to get things done if people would stop doing the wrong things!
1. Meetings. Specifically, meetings that you don’t need to be at—As a CEO, I would often get up and exit a meeting that I found I did not need to attend. Even before the meeting, I would have a discussion about the agenda with the meeting owner and why he or she thought I should attend. Leaders need to zealously protect their time and only attend the meetings they really need to be in. There is also a great “coachable moment” when you have other executives attend and then brief you on what you need to know!
Meetings are a critical part of executives’ responsibility. The most important time for a company and its executive team is when they spend time together in meetings working on the business. If the executive team doesn’t spend this necessary time, who will? Is there some third party group that sets direction and develops plans for execution? NO! It is Job #1 for any executive team!
2. Power Point presentations. Unfortunately this application has become imbedded in corporate America and too many executives have fallen victim to and accept extensive slide presentations, which are a terrible waste for executive teams. The purpose of meetings of executives should be discussion, brain storming, and collective intelligence If you can’t muster the will to banish PPTs altogether, I developed "Alampi’s Rule of 5s”:
- Anything to be presented at an executive team meeting has to be sent out five days in advance.
- There should be no more than five slides in any presentation.
- There should be no more than five bullet points on a slide.
- If you are asking for people, money, or other resources—your request should be stated on the first slide. (I didn’t want to have to wait until the last slide to know what the request was)
- If you ever start reading the slides, you will be excused from the meeting; we have all read the slides ahead of time and it is an insult to read slides to us.
3. Stop Doing Lists. In my opinion a “stop doing” list is more important than any “to do” list. I used to ask every employee at least once a quarter to come up with a stop doing list; we didn’t always accept everything they came up with but I really found a lot of hidden time that could be re-deployed into productive and relevant activities. And it is amazing how much time is wasted, for example, creating reports for people who haven’t used them in years; if it turned out that we needed that report we could always prepare it.
4. Question-to-Answer Ratio. It’s not a CEO’s job to give employees all the answers. As an executive, if you allow your employees to ask you questions every time they don’t know the answer you’ll end up spending a chunk of your day doing your employees’ work for them. Plus, having your employees find the answers themselves allows them to think more deeply, grow, and become leaders themselves. My rule, for every one answer I give, I should ask 20 questions. And the best seven-word answer when asked a question by a subordinate, I believe, is, “I don’t know; what do you think?”
5. Fixing Employees. Executives spend too much time trying to “fix” all the “C” players in their companies. The brutal fact is that it’s almost impossible to fix a “C” player in his or her current job. There is a much better ROI coaching a “B-“ to become a “B+” or a “B+” to become an “A” than trying to fix all the “C” players in the world. And the bigger problem is that “A” players don’t want to work with “C” players. When you waste valuable time trying to fix the “Cs” you send a message of acceptance of “Cs” and may lose your “As” who can always find a job anytime. And then you are left with a core of “Cs” that makes it even harder to achieve company goals.
Who are the people that always have excuses why they didn’t accomplish something they were assigned to do? Who are the only people that would ever look you in the eye and say “That isn’t in my job description?” “C” players! “C” player employees are a problem, “C” player executives are death to a company.
6. Technology Changes. Most entrepreneurial companies (and even larger ones) spend way too much time trying to implement technology systems. Often, small to mid-size companies don’t have the experienced talent at the executive level, like a CIO, who has led multiple system integration projects in the past. CEOs try to make these critical changes with current staff that may have little experience with technology, project management, and processes and change management.
Unfortunately, large technology projects can be a “you bet the company” phase of evolution. The world is littered with companies that started ERP projects and failed, even going out of business or CRM systems that cost substantial dollars only to be abandoned. And of course, during these implementations who is paying attention to customers? Usually very few people since everyone is focused internally, trying to learn how to operate with the new software.
These projects are not technology projects; they are change management projects. We are changing the way employees take care of customers and interface with each other. That’s what makes these projects so high risk; it typically isn’t the system code. And they are business projects, not technology projects; CEOs should never delegate systems development projects of this size to anyone else; they must stay involved in leading/supporting the efforts.