What Every Leader Needs To Get Right

According to the U.S Department of Labor, multi-factor productivity in 2016 was negative for the first time since the global financial crisis. While the economy has had a stellar performance in 2017, it could be short-lived if we don’t address the productivity challenges. We can’t do this until leaders get one thing right; creating focus.

With the attention span of a human at an all-time high, competing priorities, and too much information coming in, leaders are faced with corporate attention deficit. This lack of focus is a disease and until leaders can manage company time, they won’t be able to create company focus. Without focus, productivity plummets and performance at every level will suck.

So what does all this mean? It means leaders need a paradigm shift. They must look at company time the same way they look at company capital. Time allocation must be part of the planning process and allocated properly. Leaders can create focus with fewer, more impactful priorities and ensure the bulk of company time is spent on the functions/activity that drives the business forward.

What drives a business forward? There are only two functions that move a business forward; innovation and sales. Period. Yet, we’re still compelled by our corporate ego to do it all in-house. We build marketing, accounting, IT, and ultimately bigger HR departments to manage the internal fight over resources. This model, in most cases, produces incremental growth because it creates big processes. more meetings, more reports, and ultimately, more distractions from innovating stuff and selling it.

Marketing, HR, IT and Accounting have a very important role and I’m in no way trying to dimish this. There are advantages to these in-house engines. However, these teams should be intellectual, not tactical. They are the idea factories, the planners, not the executioners. Leaders should consider outsourcing things like social media management, help desk, or delinquent account receivables and let these teams focus on activity that brings the company vision to life.

Furthermore, the traditional business model dilutes the most two important roles in the organization; Sales Managers and Product Developers. These folks are spending a big portion of their time on other department’s stuff. Getting employee surveys done for HR, filling out reports for accounting, providing content for marketing, and regurgitating the P&L in the infamous “status” meeting.

If the ideas presented here are a bit radical for you, then stop reading now. For those who need major disruption and change this year, here are some suggestions to begin your cultural shift and business model transformation.

  • Remove the obvious absurdity of any given self-serving process. We all know what they are, we’ve all had to deal with some ridiculous step in a process for some control freak on the other side of the building. Acknowledge the elephant in the room and get rid of self-serving, CYA, reports and processes.
  • Automate redundant tasks and perform time studies. At first glance, time studies could be seen as micromanagement and people tend to shy away from them. On the other side of this exercise, the insight gained is priceless. Time studies not only identify useless activity, they also help managers understand what can be accomplished with the time they have in a day. I’ve used a good old fashion stopwatch and a little cost accounting to determine ROI on activities, functions, and entire departments.
  • Restructuring the organization into smaller teams and teaching managers communication skills can eliminate meetings, employee surveys, budget overruns, and turnover. Smaller teams tend to be more nimble, more focused, and less bureaucratic. Managers of smaller teams are more likely to forecast better and less likely to become burned out.
  • Give your sales managers the tools they need to close deals. Big CRMs, ERPs, and other enterprise tools are anchors to the sales team. No CRM, intranet, or internal chat tool will help them sell more. The only activity that generates sales is selling! Sales managers want correct and recent customer information, but their department should not be the producers of this, they are the end users of it. Downsize another department and build a sales enablement entity that will manage and update data, send proposals, secure POs, and be a liaison to other departments. Let sales SELL.
  • Identify and stick to core competencies, then outsource the rest. We tend to want to invent the wheel in-house instead of sticking to what’s in our wheelhouse. I’ve been guilty of this myself. “Let’s save money by creating this thing ourselves.” While we may have saved a few bucks, we spent thousands on lost opportunity and worse yet, created a lack of focus.
  • Allow product people to develop product and meet their deadlines by eliminating projects that suck the life out of innovating. Need examples? Just go ask these folks what projects are albatrosses. Give this team a direct line to customer feedback and then unshackle them to meet customer needs.
  • Infuse time management and time awareness into strategic planning, new hire onboarding, and training. After a while, your managers will come to you with all sorts of time sucks to kick out the door.
  • Look at every cost center in the business and quantify its value in dollars. Anything that can’t be quantified should be tabled until it can or replace the manager with one who deeply understands the value of the function. Don’t waste precious time on activities that don’t produce value to the customer and the business.

In the current business environment, velocity is king. Getting high quality and competitive product to market quickly will solidify the future and sustain the business. If leaders can treat time as a resource, a liability, and ultimately, an asset, they will be able to create focus which will propel productivity and significantly improve performance at every level.