Are You Allowing the Theft of the Organization’s Time?

Cash and inventory are closely guarded – their safekeeping is high priority for directors, managers, auditors and security / fraud consultants. Even consumables are carefully watched.

But the biggest resource – the Organization’s Time – is largely unmanaged. Phone calls, e-mails, meetings and teleconferences chew up hours in every executive’s day, with few rules. Most companies do not know how productively their executives and indirect staff spend their time. Time can be squandered on internal meetings, project teams, e-mails, web surfing, and indulgent nonwork chatter.

This Time-thievery may be unintentional and accepted within the culture, but its cost is huge. Service firms make up 70% of our GDP, so the salary bill is usually the biggest investment the owners make. Only in a professional firm does Time (= Billable Hours) get the automatic respect it deserves. Elsewhere a few organizations are treating Time as a scarce resource, investing it prudently, budgeting for it, measuring and analysing its deployment for value. This is essentially applying Lean principles to the office and its salaried staff.

To take control of Time expenditure is urgent. Companies are awash in e-communications (see our Feb 2015 BusyTrap). An executive may get over 200 e-mails or phone calls per day and expend over 15% of his/her week in managing these external communications. Meetings (often unproductive) may hog a further 15%. Since the purpose of a business is to create and satisfy customers at a profit, the time available for this vital work is already cut by 30%.

There is a lot of hoary advice about Time Management – may I pick out a few less clichéd ones: –

  • Take back your diary – don’t let others make appointments in it.
  • Plan a productive meeting, with advance papers, clear objectives and agenda. Keep brief minutes and agreed actions.
  • Start meetings dead on time, and finish early if done.
  • Limit meetings to seven or fewer participants.
  • Cut the duration of regular meetings by half.
  • Cost the meeting, using the salary of each participant at an opportunity cost rate of Total Annual Remuneration divided by 1,000 hours. Assess its cost vs. benefit.
  • Stamp on dysfunctional meeting behaviour, especially repetition and cellphone use.
  • Contemplate an attendee poll, rating the effectiveness of meetings. Praise or Admonish meeting leader accordingly.
  • Cut the number of projects; require business cases for each.
  • Discourage e-mail “cc”, and especially “bcc”.
  • Establish time discipline across the organization. It is the twin of Lean.

(Harvard Business Review May 2014 was a source for this piece. See