Protecting your time in executive transitions
Many executives in our transition labs use four strategies to manage their time: screen, schedule, routinize, and delegate.
Executive transitions are demanding, even for seasoned C-level professionals. If you are coming from outside a company or industry, time is required to establish relationships and learn about the business. When you are promoted to a C-level role for the first time, you need time to learn the new aspects of the role and fill in any skill gaps. In the first few months, you will also be pulled into many internal meetings as you try to get a handle on your new role. Meanwhile, myriad staff members, vendors, and consultants will be knocking on your door wanting to know you. And this, of course, is in addition to the barrage of emails that will beckon your attention.
It is no surprise we often find executives have to pull 60–80-hour work weeks during a transition. This is neither a sustainable nor a healthy model. Given that time is your irrecoverable resource, it is important to manage it with care, protect it for your most important priorities, and establish a resource model to best serve you during and after your transition.
Based on our transition labs, below are some of the strategies executives use to manage their time and increase their capacity for work: screen, schedule, routinize, and delegate.
Screen: After the first 30–45 days, you will have a pretty clear picture of the internal meetings that are unproductive that you no longer want to attend. Unless they are led by your boss, you can probably find a way to excuse yourself from meetings that do not serve you well. Killing unproductive meetings in your own department may also be a useful way to free up time and win credibility with your staff who may feel the same way.
If you have an executive assistant (EA), make sure you have one that’s a capable guardian of your time. A good executive assistant screens incoming calls and meeting requests, qualifying those requests against specific criteria that you jointly set with him or her. To this end, it is important to spend time with your EA early and set up clear criteria and expectations for how you want to schedule your time. Ideally, an EA can also assume responsibility for routine administrative matters. Having a strong executive assistant seems obvious, but it is surprising how often we find executives do not have a strong resource in place.
Schedule: In our labs, we often hear executives note that it is hard to take “time out to think.” One simple and trite answer is to schedule it. Make time on your calendar for yourself that is inviolable by other meetings and interruptions. Some executives we worked with come to the office early to spend a few hours by themselves, thinking through issues and forming the day’s agenda.
Another issue many executives confront is the plethora of emails that they receive. Email in many organizations is today’s weapon of “mass distraction.” Some executives choose to reserve time for emails—choosing not to do it first thing in the morning, attending to important ones in the middle of the day or lunch, and wrapping up others in the evening. Scheduling email time avoids distractions during other meetings and work.
A third thing that merits scheduling are things that may be difficult to do or essential to learn. Suppose you are a treasurer that’s appointed to a CFO role without a CPA background. You really want to master key accounting and control issues to increase your confidence as a CFO. You may schedule regular weekly meetings during the transition period with your controller and chief accountant to brief you on the requisite issues and bring you up to speed on them.
Routinize: Often, executives come into an organization and find that key processes are broken. For example, an incoming CFO may encounter an ad hoc budgeting process that’s too time-consuming. One way to protect your time is to establish a routine. In the budgeting case, perhaps it is building business case templates and a consistent process for project evaluation that is transparent across stakeholders. Creating routines and good processes can free up time by removing the need to reinvent a solution every time an issue arises.
Delegate: Delegation is the biggest key to protecting your time. In the next few essays on talent, I’ll look at how you can assemble and motivate a team, allowing you to delegate projects and free up time to attend to the important stuff. But as a C-level executive, you may have another opportunity to directly recruit a manager to assist you. This is often vital to increasing your capacity.
Such a recruit may be a talented young manager within your department who is recruited as “leadership program fellow,” “chief of staff,” or similar title on a 1–2-year rotational assignment. The purpose of their assignment can be twofold. First, as part of leadership development program, they gain leadership skills and exposure to your role as well as your peer leaders’ within a company. Second, they can handle a number of tasks on your behalf: attending meetings as a listener and your proxy, preparing PowerPoints and meeting materials, handling less-important emails, and managing projects against key milestones. Having an effective young manager to delegate to can dramatically increase your efficiency and free up your time.
Takeaways: Screening, scheduling, routinizing, and delegating are some of the ways we find executives protecting their time to attend to the truly important stuff. As a C-level executive, having a strong executive assistant and a high-potential young manager dedicated to you can increase your capacity to attend to priority issues. After all, you were recruited to do more than “business as usual.”