TIME MANAGEMENT Seven Time Wasters – And how to evict them

1 Kill morning meetings
For starters, shift meetings away from the most productive time of the day: the morning. Clogging up crucial time with non-productive activities makes managers seethe. In some cases corporate insistence on morning meetings generates resistance so fierce that senior team members deliberately schedule important client meetings to clash with their early-bird inhouse interfaces.
Schedule meetings towards the tail end of the day and leave the morning for service delivery. The diagram “The working day” explains how manager’s diary often looks and how it could be improved. The main changes involve allocating bigger chunks of service delivery time, delaying email duties and rescheduling meeting times to the afternoons. Together they allow managers to be more relaxed, having scored some early goals. Having rescheduled, work on making the meetings more productive.

2 Make meetings count
At some time, most managers have received training in managing meetings. So why does the level of frustration with meetings remain dangerously high? That’s because training often overlooks the core reasons for failure. Even the legendary John “meetings bloody meetings” Cleese serves to entertain rather than tackle these issues.
Management consultants Mike Osborne and David McIntosh have developed methodology that is breathtaking in its simplicity yet profound in its impact. Action meetings hit at the core of dysfunctional get-togethers: unclear agendas, lack of engagement, rambling discussions, lack of understanding of fellow attendees’ mental and emotional space, and poorly defined action points and follow-through.
Quick tips for major impact include:
• Introduce “first and last word” policy at meetings. Ask attendees to briefly describe their mental and/or emotional state at the start and end of each meeting. First words could range from “I am very time challenged and this meeting is the last thing I need” to “I’m keen to make progress with this assignment and to hear Bill’s view on the XYZ development”. Last words could range from “This meeting once again promised little and delivered nothing” to “I look forward to receiving Pat’s report and working with the project team”. Encourage attendees to speak candidly about how they feel. Treat each comment with respect and do not debate, judge or answer it.
• Construct effective agendas by focusing on outcomes. Introduce precise wording about meeting outcomes. Outcomes provide focus and the ability to easily check whether an item has been completed. Meeting outcomes could include: project XYZ progress examined and understood; monthly results understood; next steps for project XYZ agreed and assigned; this month’s key initiatives agreed; and responsibilities on the acquisition of ABC Limited assigned. major benefit of wording outcomes in this way is that requested attendees can, and should, exclude themselves from being present if they do not think they can add value or assist in achieving the outcomes.
• Push the point that participants – not the chairperson – own meetings. Train all attendees in the action meeting skills. When everyone shares stake, they are less reliant on the capability of the chairperson.
More information at www.actionmeetings.com

3 Call in the virtual executive
Squashed in the middle seat of Boeing 767 on the long flight from Brisbane to Perth, an executive could be forgiven for wondering if they could have sent their virtual self instead.
• Video / audio conferencing. Long-time friends of the reluctant traveller, these technologies have been proven by academics to be more effective than actually being there. For $250 per person, savvy organisations now shell out for videoconferencing via quality headset and web cam. The application, MSN Messenger, comes free with Microsoft Windows.
• Web-based audio streaming. Speakers deliver the presentations from the comfort of their home or office. Audiences around the world hook in via the worldwide web, see the slides and hear the commentary. More powerful still, is the notion that each participant can forward query at any time to the presenter who can cover these during the question and answer session. (See www.bettermanagement.com for many archived presentations and the opportunity to join in one live.)

4 Throw out old budgeting
As far back as 1998, survey of CFOs by American consultancy Hackett Benchmarking & Research found that:
• For every US$1 billion of revenue, organisations were investing 25,000 person days in the budget process.
• The average budget process eats up four months.
• Two thirds of CFOs reckoned politics played bigger role than strategy when it came to their organisation’s budget.
• Nearly 90 percent of CFOs were dissatisfied with their budget process.
Now, organisations across Asia, Europe, America and Australasia are fronting up to the disconcerting truth that their current budget processes do not work. Many businesses acknowledge they are locked into process that is more hindrance than help. It takes too long. It is not linked to strategic outcomes. It has no relevance to critical success factors.
Smart organisations are throwing out the old process and starting again. They are now swapping their traditional budget process for bottom-up forecasting regime which looks six quarters ahead. Typically revised every quarter, the new quarterly rolling planning regime requires an appropriate planning and forecasting tool. Each quarter, before approving these estimates, management sees the bigger picture six quarters out. The annual plan falls out of one of these quarterly forecasts. While firming up the short-term numbers for the next three months, all subsequent forecasts also update the annual forecast.
Instead of comparing actuals against flawed monthly budget, this bottom-up regime allows managers to compare last month’s actual against the most recent forecast. Commentary is much more targeted and forecasts are, at worst, only three months old. (For more information on how calendar quarter rolling forecasts work see the “Crunchy KPIs” article on page 103 of Management magazine December 2004 or visit www.waymark.co.nz

5 Pass on board papers
Many boards have little grasp of the hours wasted rewriting board papers – task which every month can single-handedly chew into week of management time.
Frustrated by the wastage, some CEOs are signalling bold cultural about-turn, committing the company to major training programme to assist managers (including the senior team and the board) to coach others to craft reports and to avoid rewrites at all costs.
These organisations have learnt to delegate and empower their staff so that board papers are being written with limited input from senior managers and are being tabled with few amendments (provided that the senior management team agree with the recommendations). This step requires trust and training. The CEO can always put caveat on the report: “Whilst I concur with the recommendations, the report was written by Pat Carruthers.”
For their part, board members need to understand that the report is not written in senior management team “speak”. Board members are encouraged to comment directly to the writer about strengths and areas for improvement with report writing. Where necessary, the report writers double as presenters at meetings.
Having largely delegated the report writing and associated stress, management teams that get this right enjoy noticeably more relaxed week leading up to board meetings. Organisational rewards include motivated and more competent staff, and general managers who are free to spend more time contributing to the bottom line.

6 Avoid old horses
Reporting to management after month-e

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