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MORNING MANAGER

How ineffective managers spend their time Add to ...

Are you a firefighter? An online junkie? A schmoozer? Or a cheerleader?

These are four profiles of managers – ineffective managers, actually – that come out of a recent McKinsey & Co. study looking at allocation of time by nearly 1,500 executives around the world.

When asked about satisfaction with their time allocation, only 9 per cent were “very satisfied.” And only 52 per cent felt that the way they spend their time matches their organizations’ strategic priorities. Nearly half admitted they don’t concentrate sufficiently on guiding the strategic direction of the business. This means that their time-allocation challenges affect not only them, but also their organizations.

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Here’s a look at the four general profiles of ineffective managers (as compared with the benchmark group, who were satisfied with how they handled their time):

Online junkiesThis is the most common descriptor, which includes 34 per cent of North American executives surveyed. They spend far more time on e-mail and voice mail than the benchmark group, and more time with customers – but less time on their direct reports and an astonishing 50 per cent less time on face-to-face communications.

“It’s very easy for executives to feel they are connecting with a lot of people through e-mail, but the quality of that interaction tends to go down significantly, and there is a lot of nuance to face-to-face, in person communication that you can lose if you are only communicating by e-mail,” said Aaron De Smet, a principal in the firm’s Houston office, who conducted the study with Frankki Bevins of the Washington, D.C., office.

CheerleadersAbout one-quarter of North American executives fit in this group. They draw their energy from leading and motivating their team, so their time in face-to-face communication and management of people far exceeds the benchmark group. The problem is that they fall behind in time spent managing external stakeholders and customers. Their success comes from rallying the team behind a common objective.

FirefightersThis label covers 22 per cent of the North American sample. They want more time to deal with strategic issues, where they fall below the benchmark group, but spend far too much time on managing the latest unexpected issue or, of course, e-mail. They also fall behind in face-to-face communication. Their calendars are a mess, because they are constantly cancelling meetings to douse the latest fire.

SchmoozersThis group of extroverts, 20 per cent of the North Americans, fall behind the benchmark group in setting direction and strategy, handling e-mail, and spending time alone thinking. They are energized by engaging with others, particularly customers, with whom they spend more time than other executives do. They feel plugged in, but Mr. De Smet notes that people who are outside their circle have trouble getting in touch with them as they are always in meetings and not responsive to e-mails.

The benchmark groupThe study found that executives in the satisfied and effective group spend 34 per cent of their time interacting with external stakeholders, 39 per cent in internal meetings, and 24 per cent working alone. Less than one-third of their time interacting with others came from e-mail. Instead, they were in face-to-face meetings, teleconferencing, or other forms of real-time communication.

The satisfied executives also identified four key activities that take up two-thirds of their time: making key business or operational decisions, managing and motivating people, setting direction and strategy, and managing external stakeholders. They divide their time about equally between those four tasks.

Mr. De Smet stresses that having managers spend their time effectively – aligned with, and aligning others, to strategic goals – is a vital organizational imperative. “The time of your most talented people is just as scarce and important as your investment capital,” he said in an interview.

He advises organizations to figure out how managers at different levels should be spending their time so the organization can fulfill its strategic goals. You should have a time “budget” for managers that maps the best use of time to align with the company’s strategy. Be particularly alert to the danger of technology, he warns: “Technology has made it easier to hide in your office. It has also made it easier for people to distract you.”

Ensure managers routinely measure and manage their time. Refine the master calendar for the year, so that meetings about strategy, budget, and human resources are linked in an effective pattern, rather than scatter shot. And return to providing high-quality administrative support for your managers, rather than having them waste their time on inconsequential tasks.

If you want effective managers, you must make the use of their time a priority for your organization.

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