Employees Can Only Manage Their Time if the Organization Lets Them
This is the second in a series of posts about the most read articles in the McKinsey Quarterly, the management consultancy’s free online business magazine. (Free registration is required to view the articles.)
This article, ranked second on the most-read list, takes a new angle at the eternal Time Management issue by pinning the blame not just on the individual, but on the organization. We work with clients constantly on individual time management skills, but we do see the authors’ point: Employees can operate at the peak of time efficiency, and still not always successfully manage the endless number of projects that keep piling up.
The Organization Assumption: Every Employee’s Time is Limitless
The authors of this article (Frankki Bevins and Aaron De Smet of McKinsey) surveyed nearly 1,500 executives across the globe about how they spent their time. Here are some of their findings:
- Only 9 percent of the respondents deemed themselves “very satisfied” with their current time allocation.
- Less than half were “somewhat satisfied”
- About one-third were “actively dissatisfied.”
- Only 52 percent said that the way they spent their time largely matched their organizations’ strategic priorities.
- Nearly half admitted that they were not concentrating sufficiently on guiding the strategic direction of the business.
One factor driving this frustrating trend is that organizations make the assumption that “leadership time…too often gets treated as though it were limitless, with all good opportunities receiving high priority regardless of the leadership capacity to drive them forward.”
The Delusion of Limitless Executive Time
The fiction that executive (or middle management!) time is unlimited allows organizations to “do more with less,” a trend that was exacerbated during the recent recession. Organizations have cut administrative and clerk positions drastically to save money, and make the assumption that the tasks traditionally done by these positions can be added to the managers’ list of responsibilities without constraining their ability to perform their leadership responsibilities. For this to work, everyone must buy into the delusion that the extra work is done in extra time, and doesn’t detract from the amount of time these managers need to dedicate to their primary responsibilities.
Bring back the Administrative Assistant!
What to do?
- Work with executives to better balance their days.
- Examine in detail all the tasks they are being asked to do.
- Assign rote tasks and administrative paperwork to less expensive people.
The economics are clear:
- Pay someone $40 an hour to run rote, day-to-day tasks.
- Let the $400-an-hour executive spend more time balancing employee engagement activities with strategic thinking
The authors shared a graphic that illustrated how the most satisfied of the executives in the time management survey spent their time. It can serve as a great template to which less satisfied executives can aspire.
As with so many penny-wise, pound foolish cost-cutting initiatives, eliminating administrative positions makes short-term sense, but sets the organization up for missed revenue opportunities long-term, as the executives tasked with finding them spend too much time on tactical day-to-day items.
What do you think? Has the elimination of administrative and analyst positions gone past the point of economic sense? Should the trend start moving back the other way, or has technology truly allowed fewer people to handle administrative tasks without them?