Purposeful Leaders Understand the Value of Time

Originally published
Originally published: 7/1/2013

Getting the best return on your time investment

Time is something none of us can get more of, so the management of time is one of the most important aspects of what you need to do as a purposeful leader.

One of the best analogies I use in our company regarding time is asking our employees to equate one hour of time to one dollar. I then explain that I will give them one dollar and they can choose one of three investment options for their dollar. Option 1 will yield a zero percent return; Option 2 will yield a five percent return; and Option 3 will yield a 20 percent return. Of course, everyone wants the 20 percent return on their investment and picks Option 3.

It really is helpful to look at your time just as you look at investing your money. Because, in essence, you are looking for the same result: you are looking for the best return on your time.
Taking this thought process one step further, let’s ask the question, “Who am I spending my time with?” All too often, managers spend their time where the problems are, not where the results are. While we need to deal with problems, we want our focus to be on results.  Our job as leaders puts us in a position where we have to deal with problems and poor performance.  But we need some parameters to help us understand both the issue of time and the investment of time.

One of the most touted management/leadership teachings out there is: “Spend 80 percent of your time with your top performers.” Another is: “Your team should be measured based on the 20 percent top performers, 70 percent role players and 10 percent poor performers.” In theory, I agree. But I think these teachings fall short. Not enough is written, or taught, about the critical 80 percent of your workforce and how to improve their performance through minimum performance standards.

Let’s take a 10 percent poor performer for a minute and walk through his or her day. They wake up with no expectation of doing anything other than what they have to do. They show up to work and do what is asked. They go home and wait to do the same thing over and over and over until it is time to retire. The point is, if you don’t set the minimum standards for this group, they will set their own, often low, job expectations. Day after day.

Now let’s go back to the two management/leadership theories we discussed earlier. You can say you’re going to spend 80 percent of your time with the top 20 percent and help them become even better. This is a very noble way of thinking. But what most of us really end up doing is giving all of our time and attention to those top performers. The risk here is that 80 percent of employees will continue with mediocre standards instead of performance-enhancing minimum standards that align with the company’s vision and mission.

In one of my earlier articles, I wrote about the importance of setting standards.  Here’s the key to this issue.  Your company, or department standards, are actually set by the lowest performers, not the top performers. Top performers are in place for one reason: to show you what is possible and to help raise the minimum standards. But it’s the bottom performers that set the minimum standard in your company or department.

As a business leader, you must understand the value of making a time management decision on where to spend your time to get the most beneficial results for your company. Your top 20 percent will always perform at a high level, and you do need to devote time to coaching them to even greater success. That’s a very good use of 80 percent of your time and effort. The other 20 percent of your time, focused on the remaining 80 percent of your workforce or team, should be used to establish, communicate and promote the minimum standards for working at your company. The message you want to communicate is, “You have to work at a certain level if you want to work here.”  You must clearly establish that you no longer allow employees to come to work and just exist without being accountable to minimum standards.

If you adopt this concept, you will find that 80 percent of your employee base will contribute to the growth and success of your company or department, and your top 20 percent performers will be inspired to try even harder. The point is, your top performers will always perform at a high level.  You do need to invest your time with them to coach them to even greater success. Using the remaining 20 percent of your time to raise the standards of the other 80 percent of your employees will create an environment of incremental growth through your largest body of employees.

Wade Mayfield is president of Thermal Services Inc., Omaha, Neb.

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