Managers often forget that they too are employees – even when they are the owner. One of the biggest frustrations of workers is that they don’t understand what their boss is really responsible for. And from the results we see from some managers, they don’t seem to know either.
Making Time for What You Are Good At, and Bad At
I sometimes ask my clients to send me job descriptions for their employees to help me become oriented to their company. About half of the firms have them (which half are you, btw?). Most are somewhat unrealistic about how many things any one person can be responsible for, but then most employees will tell me they do all those things – so I guess it’s alright. Maybe management and worker are playing a gameto see who can promise the most, I don’t know. What I do know is that I have never received a job description for the owner or General Manager, and the top person in the company is the one I will most likely have to coach about what is appropriate for them to do and what they should delegate. Here is a summary of the things I most often teach about senior management job descriptions:
The most important role for any leader is to be available to his or her direct reports. Many leaders tout an open door policy, but truth be told most of the time people do not like to be interrupted and therefore won’t interrupt you. The trick is to have time available where it is easy for you to stop what you are doing without looking flustered.
My rule of thumb is that 50% of your time should be unstructured (as in unscheduled), and you should spend that time being very interruptable. Use this time to do these three things in any quantity.
1. Get out of your office and go where the action is. Business guru Tom Peters called it ‘management by walking around’. This is your opportunity to stumble upon people doing things correctly, have informal conversations about whatever employees want to talk about, and to LISTEN.
2. Work at something you like and are good at. (Things that you are bad at go in structured time). If you like talking to clients, then make those calls when the mood strikes. If you enjoy spreadsheets, spend some quality time with ones and zeroes.
3. Think. Yes, I said think. Someone needs to be doing the thinking and everyone else assumes it’s you. If you have trouble getting started, do what I do – read an article (or scan 20 of them). Sooner or later you will hit on an idea that speaks to you and the thinking will take care of itself. If you are not good at thinking, then move this task to structured time.
The other half of your time is devoted to the projects and meetings that need your full attention. Understand that you can’t have free time if you let yourself be in meetings all day. Leaders that have more than 30 employees probably only need to attend two or three recurring meetings a week and most they could skip at least part of. In fact, if you do not need to be there for the entire meeting, then consider not going at all. Let the meeting’s owner download the minutes when it’s over (if you even need to know what happened).
Projects on the other hand, deserve your focus. Don’t over-commit to research, reports, or proposals that could be done by your direct reports. Do take on mission-critical tasks and set aside closed door time to work on them. What counts as a viable project will vary from company to company and leader to leader. When in doubt, ask your direct reports what you should be working on – they know.
Don’t be afraid to delegate more. It is true that your managers are probably over-worked, but that is only because they don’t delegate enough either. Assign important projects to your top folks and encourage them to assign their pet projects to their direct reports. Eventually the system will get backed up, but then you can have a useful conversation about which projects are truly important and kill the ones that are not.
My standard job description for leaders goes like this: 1. Set goals and define expectations, 2. Remove obstacles, 3. Answer questions. Repeat.
Companies whose leaders follow these guidelines have employees that work on relevant projects, know how to retool when circumstances change, and make more money because profit is generally one of the clearer expectations.