Time management - for managers

2/10/2014

Whenever I ask anyone in business how they are, the answer is nearly always that they are busy, tired or juggling too many priorities. No-one ever says they are calm, in control or underworked! The reasons for this, as everyone dashes off to the next meeting with their eyes glued to the latest message on their smartphone, will be the subject of another blog (when I have time to write it).

How any of use our time is of course a matter for us. If you are a leader or manager, however, then we can’t afford to be so insular. The thing about time management for managers is that how we use our time directly affects the ability of our team to do their job.

Typically, 70% of a manager’s time can be described as ‘unplanned’. That’s a bit of a problem for a person whose job is supposed to be all about organising and planning the work of others. Traditional time management solutions tend to be about avoiding interruptions by finding increasingly eccentric ways of keeping people away: some I’ve come across more than once include saving time by holding our meetings standing up, or putting time limits on people’s contributions; putting ‘do not disturb’ signs on your office door as you sit down to meet a deadline; or working at home to avoid interruptions.

Some of these tactics may work in the short-term to recover from a backlog of work, but they are counterproductive. While we’re doing all this not only is our own work piling up but our staff are probably having problems, or ideas, or experiences that they need to share with us. So they are left wondering what to do, or feeling frustrated because we don’t have time for them. They are waiting for information or permission or involvement. Only we’re not available to work with them because we’re trying to avoid interruptions (in other words, trying to avoid them).

There is an alternative, and it’s this: if we stop trying to keep parcels of time in which we can do our work and focus on being a manager instead. If we don’t have time to manage we’re not managing! So find ways to involve your team in your work, at the highest level they are capable of. Share your objectives with them, ask for their input, get them alongside as you deal with the strategic thinking necessary to achieve your team or company goals. Accept that they will need your time and embrace the fact by making sure that the time you spend with them is useful, developmental for both of you and aimed at strategic essentials such as planning, preparation, coaching, delegation, idea generation and evaluation.

That way you’ll still be spending 70% of your time with them but it will feel very different and be more productive for everyone. Your team will gain confidence, spend less time waiting for you and more time contributing.

When I was given my first Director level position I was also given a PA. I thought that was pretty cool until one day she asked me if she could have a word. Actually, six: “You are making my job impossible!” She was supposed to be organising me, but she couldn’t do it because I kept my own diary, didn’t keep her informed of my ‘to do’ list and kept doing things myself, and not as well as she could do them. So we arranged a weekly half-hour meeting that gave her all the information she needed to ‘manage’ me. I became more effective and she was finally able to do her job. My time management had a real impact on hers.

Stop talking while I'm interrupting!

2/8/2014

Whenever I’m asked to work with a ‘problem’ team or organisation, the very first thing everyone talks about is communication. We all know that communication is the single most important aspect of management, teamwork and all business activities and relationships. Yet it is the hardest skill to get right, and needs constant work on everyone’s behalf.

This article is about what I see as the most important part of communication, and is also ironically the single aspect that people most often get wrong – listening.

In a recent leadership course I asked some senior managers why they communicate with their colleagues. Some instant responses were: to get things done, to explain, inform or reinforce a message. They then added reasons that involved listening rather than talking, such as: to discuss options, solve a problem or find out something.

The interesting thing here is that while they were clearly keen to engage and work with their colleagues, their first instinct was to talk about their own aims and preoccupations. This is understandable when you’re working under pressure but is less effective than taking the time to, as Stephen Covey famously suggests, seek first to understand, then to be understood.

This is not simply a ‘nicer’ way to deal with people, but it’s more efficient too. We all want to, as my leadership group rightly said, get things done, but as leaders we are typically not getting those things done by ourselves, we are getting them done through and with others – teams, partners, customers, networks. They have their own concerns and their own ideas, they know what is important to them, they have questions that need answering and their own perspective on things. They will also be asking the time-honoured question: ‘What’s in it for me?’

People are not influenced by what’s important to you; they are influenced by what’s important to them. Only when they feel acknowledged, listened to and understood will they be in a position to genuinely listen to you, so why not try really listening to others before talking yourself and see what difference that makes?

I’ll leave you with a little true story to illustrate some of the benefits of setting aside our own ego in order to listen to a team member. And remember what my old Science teacher said to me once: “You have two ears and one mouth, boy. Use them in that proportion.” I never did, and I failed Science…

The Chairman of Millwall Football Club spent a match day with a member of staff employed to sell refreshments in a catering kiosk. At the end of the match, the catering assistant showed him a pile of 30 burgers. “What do you think I’m going to do with these, Mr Chairman?” he asked. The chairman said he didn’t know. “I’ll tell you,” he replied. “I’m going to throw them in the bin!” “Why?” “Because you’re too tight to buy me a fridge...” He paused for effect, then asked, “How much is each burger? I’ll tell you, it’s £5.00. That’s 5 x 30, that’s £150. How many kiosks are there in the ground Mr Chairman? I’ll tell you, there’s 10. That’s 10 x £150 - £1,500 per match. 24 matches a season, that’s 36 grand a year. All because you didn’t think to buy me a fifty quid fridge.”

What do you think the Chairman did? It pays to listen to your staff; they might know what they’re talking about!

How did Alan Hester Associates start?

31/1/2013

In 2002 I founded Alan Hester Associates, fulfilling a long-held ambition to deliver the kind of training and coaching I knew managers at all levels need. Eleven years on we are working with new and experienced team leaders, managers and directors, facilitating team days and running accredited and stand-alone training and development across the South East and beyond.

Of course it’s not just managers who benefit from our development and support, and that’s why you’ll also find tailored provision for unemployed adults, people with mental health or confidence issues and motivational programmes for those at a crossroads. Other provision you’ll find here includes short courses on business and life skills such as handling difficult people, assertiveness, project management and train the trainer.

I believe that all of us can benefit from a fresh perspective on our lives, careers and challenges, and my pledge is that a training course from Alan Hester Associates will be interactive, practical and thought-provoking. It might be my company, but it’s your course. I hope you will find the information on our site gives you a reason to work with us on your way to achieving your personal, career or organisational goals.

Thanks for your time, and best wishes Alan