What your diary says about you

11th May 2011 | Posted in Management

The Economist this week points to some fundamental questioning going on at HBR: What is it that CEOs do with their time? Using their PAs to report the diaries of CEOs of 94 Italian firms, researchers found that an average 60% of their time or nearly six hours per day was spent in meetings. Those meetings with internal people were unequally divided between business uncollected-rubbish-linin-004functions with Finance receiving 60% more time than HR. External meetings with clients and suppliers took up around 30% more time than meetings with investors and bankers. An hour and a half was devoted to working alone each day, just half an hour to phone calls and forty-five minutes or so to ‘business’ lunches. As The Economist points out, the PAs may be a little protective in their record-keeping (I’ve never seen an Italian manage lunch in less than three courses) but this looks depressingly familiar.

Defining the work of senior managers is sufficiently organisation specific to make me even more than usually wary of generalizations, but I feel some coming on anyway. Leadership means that you have to be with people, preferably MBWA, but virtually at least, yet this research finds no time devoted to getting out where the work gets done. Senior management means thinking about your business and, while some of that may have gone on in the meetings, I’m guessing that an hour and a half spent working alone is more likely to have been spent on email than in reading or thinking anything useful. The CEO spending more time selling than nurturing their investors is massaging the wrong limb. Step back, boss, and let those good people you’ve employed do their work while you do your own.

I learned long ago to measure people on what they do rather than what they say. The simplest way to do that when you come across a new team is to sneak a peek at their diaries. On the basis of this research, these CEOs aren’t doing their jobs. They are doing a combination of interfering in someone else’s job and worrying about today. As McKinsey has pointed out, business works best when it concentrates on the long-term and if even the CEO can’t get their fingers off the day to day there’s trouble ahead.

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