A challenge for small business owners like myself is spending enough time working on the business. Most of our time is spent working in the business. Senior leaders of larger organizations face the same issue. It is very easy to get caught up in the day to day operations of a business at the expense of spending adequate time doing the things that senior executives should be doing.
An activity that I have participants in my executive leadership program do is to keep a log of how they spend their time for five working days. When they analyze where they actually spend their time and compare it to where they feel that they should be spending their time, huge gaps appear in those strategic activities required to improve business performance in the long term.
Strategic activities center on four main areas—vision, values, long term direction, and resource allocation. Senior leaders should be spending a large percentage of their time in these four areas. Much has been written about the importance of vision in determining the long term success of an organization. As Jim Collins and Jerry Portas reported in Built To Last, visionary companies out performed peer companies that lacked a compelling vision. I have found that most companies have created some form of vision statement. However, most think that the job is done when the statement is completed and posted on the wall. The real work of senior leadership is to communicate the vision and to use powers of persuasion to get everyone in the organization committed to achieving the vision. This is a continuous activity that is the responsibility of senior leadership and cannot be delegated to lower level management.
Values are those things which govern personal behavior in an organization. The stronger the values, the less the need for policies and procedures manuals and management intervention into every decision made in the organization. Values are learned by people in the organization by observing the behavior of the senior leaders. For example if they see senior leaders working closely together as a team, employees are more likely to exhibit high levels of teamwork. Likewise, if they see senior leaders openly critical and non supportive of their peers, then there will likely be a “silo mentality” in the organization. The role of senior leadership is to clearly communicate values and to reinforce with their own personal behavior as well as what they do or do not tolerate in the behaviors of others.
Senior leaders are responsible for considering the long term implications of every key decision that they make. It requires the ability to look beyond today, and to have a clear sense of the direction of the organization. A crucial element of establishing the strategy and long term direction of the organization is developing the vital few goals that must be achieved. We call these the critical success factors of the organization. The senior leaders are responsible for defining the critical success factors and constantly monitoring progress towards achieving them.
The resources of the organization are the responsibility of senior leadership to allocate. Resources are financial, human, and physical and are always limited. The role of senior leaders is to apply these resources to the right things that move the organization towards achievement of its goals. Often this requires challenging the status quo with respect to resource allocation.
Examine how you spend your time as a senior leader. Is it focused is these four areas—vision, values, long term direction, and resource allocation?