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  • Tara Rethore

Is It About Time?

We all know that resources are limited. Yet, have you ever considered which is your most limited resource? Posing that question to the CEOs and senior executives I know yields a variety of answers, the most common of which is probably “money”, followed closely by “people” or “time”. Of those three, Robert Sher (author of Mighty Midsized Companies) suggests that time is also the least respected resource, and that’s the problem for CEOs.


Time is Speaking: Are you listening?


Sher lists time – or more specifically, “Letting Time Slip-Slide Away” – among the seven silent growth killers. I’d argue that time (and its passage) is not silent; in fact, it’s quite vocal. We’re just not listening. How often have you heard or thought: “Where did the time go?” “I lost track of time.” Those statements signal the rapid consumption of a critical resource. They also offer a clue that time is not top of mind. Worse: you’re ignoring it. There are many symptoms of a lack of respect for time, several of which Sher highlights. In my experience, two are so loud as to be deafening. Walk through the halls or into any breakroom and you’ll find people talking about tiresome meetings or inquiring about a priority initiative or opportunity. I’ve termed them: Meeting Misery and Status Unknown.


Meeting Misery: What’s the Purpose?


Let’s take Meeting Misery. How often do you hear people excited to attend meetings? Productive meetings are typically a good use of time; there’s no misery. Before meetings, ask about its purpose, the desired outcomes from the conversation, and what decisions you should expect to take. By the same token, provide that information for the meetings you lead. That way, you’ll all know if that meeting is a good use of time – before you spend it. After the meeting, check in with the group – or walk the halls; what are you hearing? That offers insight for how to allocate time going forward.


Status Unknown: Is Everything Clear?


With my clients, I take a similar, proactive approach for Status Unknown. Asking “what’s up” may suggest a lack of clarity about some part of the initiative – its purpose, status, deadlines, progress, or responsible parties Every initiative or project should have a documented purpose, actions, specific people assigned to execute them, and a schedule for regular review or check in – before significant time is spent on it. Then, at each review point, decide whether to abandon the program, continue as is, or make adjustments to the time and other resources spent on it.


And, as Sher says, make it visible. Making it visible – meaning everything: purpose, responsibility, actions, and review – creates the opportunity to assess continually whether resources are being used appropriately. Further, visibility provides line of sight not only into a specific project but also into its place relative to others. That way, status is always known; and the senior leaders I work with are better positioned to take action, before time is lost.


Are You Respecting Time?


In both cases, people are squandering time – in unproductive or ineffective meetings, or pursuing projects or initiatives for which the status is unknown. Further, they are clearly signaling the passage of time – and use of that limited resource.


Like any critical resource, time requires careful attention to assure you are making good use of it. Otherwise, while time flies, your growth can die. Still, it’s not always easy for executives to make the shift required to achieve this. Unlike other key resources, you’re unlikely to list time among the KPIs you monitor regularly. Thus, if you are not listening carefully, you may not realize they need attention. Both Meeting Misery and Status Unknown can be conquered with relatively simple remedies. I have helped my clients to bring time to the forefront as a key resource they can – and do – manage.


If time has that kind of power, shouldn’t it be more respected?