I know you don’t have enough time. Nobody has enough time! After all, there are only 168 hours in a week and you have zillions of demands on your time—you have your own tasks and responsibilities and projects besides your management obligations.
You definitely don’t have enough time. What does that mean for you as a leader? It means you don’t have time NOT to manage your people.
Waiting for a Crisis
Managers who try desperately to avoid spending time managing people end up spend lots of time managing people anyway. That’s because when a manager avoids taking time to make sure things go right, things always go wrong. Small problems pile up and fester unattended until they become so big that they cannot be ignored. By that point, the manager has no choice but to chase down the problems and solve them. In crisis, the manager is virtually guaranteed to be less efficient, a further waste of time. So these managers run around solving problems that never had to happen, getting big problems under control that should have been solved easily, recouping squandered resources, dealing with long-standing performance problems, feeling even more pressed for time. That means in all likelihood they will go right back to avoiding managing people, and the next time they’ll make time for management is the next time there is another big problem to chase down and solve.
Management by Special Occasion
Most managers are so busy with their own “real work” that they think of their management work mostly as an extra burden. They avoid daily managing the way a lot of people avoid daily exercise. As a result, they and their employees get out of shape. When problems crop up they quickly get out of control, these managers can no longer avoid their responsibility and they spring into action. By that point, however, they have a very difficult task on their hands: they are trying to run ten miles when they are completely out of shape.
I call this phenomenon—managing only when it can no longer be avoided— “management by special occasion.” Most of these “special occasions” are big problems that need solving, but there are other special occasions too: assigning a new project to an employee, communicating a change from on high to the team, or recognizing a huge success. In the absence of some “special occasion,” though, most managers simply don’t manage.
The only alternative to management by special occasion is getting in the habit of managing every day. Start by setting aside one hour every day, or every other day. as your sacrosanct time for managing. During that hour, do not fight fires. Use that hour for managing up front, before anything goes right, wrong, or average.
A 15-Minute Solution
Here’s the key: The time you spend managing is “high leverage time.” By managing, you engage the productive capacity of the people you manage. For every, say, fifteen-minute management conversation you have with an employee, you should be engaging hours or maybe days of that employee’s productive capacity. If that fifteen-minute conversation is effective, that fifteen minutes of management should substantially improve the quality and output of the employee’s work for hours or days. That’s a good return on investment—that’s why I call it “high leverage time.”
Some people need more attention than others. Talking to every person every day is not always possible. You have to choose your targets. Just don’t make the mistake of choosing the same targets over and over again. Spread out your management time. Some employees may need you more than others, but everybody needs you.
As long as you conduct them on a regular basis, there is no reason to let management conversations become long and convoluted. The goal is to make these one-on-one meetings routine, brief, straight and simple. You’ll be surprised at how much you can get done in fifteen minutes. Take any employee you have not spoken to in detail for a while. Spend fifteen minutes with that person asking probing questions about his work. It is almost always the case that you will find some surprises. You will find things that require adjustment. You’ll be darned glad you had that conversation. And you should be in a hurry to have another one, no more than two weeks thereafter.
At fifteen minutes per meeting, you should be able to have four meetings a day in an hour. That’s twenty meetings a week, at least. I bet that’s a whole lot more than you’ve been managing lately.
Bruce Tulgan is the author of numerous books including the bestseller It’s Okay to Be the Boss (2007) and the classic Managing Generation X (1995), as well as Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (2009) and It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (2010). To find out more, visit www.rainmakerthinking.com/blog/ or www.talkaboutthework.com. Follow Bruce on Twitter @brucetulgan.