Time is the most fundamental resource that anyone has. Yet, individuals at any level of an organization rarely feel as if they have mastered time management. Outside of the old aphorism “time is money,” time remains mysterious.
It is easy to assume that if people come to work every day, clock in on schedule, and go to their assigned area, most of the time they spend will be occupied with relevant, productive tasks. If you focus on hiring top talent and developing them further, more people in your workforce will feel motivated to proactively use their time well.
Yet, even the most engaged employees do not necessarily invest time wisely.
According to a recent analysis by McKinsey, the average professional spends 28% of the work day reading or responding to emails. That adds up to 120 messages and more than 2.5 hours spent per day. This raises the question: Is that time well spent? And if not, what role can leaders play in building a more effective culture?
It can take more than 20 minutes to return to a task after being interrupted by one email, let alone 120.
Nor is email alone as a scourge of productivity with deep roots in workplace culture.
According to a study from MIT’s Sloan Management Review, the average executive spends some 23 hours per week in scheduled meetings, while the average employee can expect about six hours per week, conservatively. On average, large organizations have more meetings than smaller ones.
The number of meetings is estimated to have doubled between the 1960s and 1980s. Business leaders report spending more time in meetings than they did five years ago, and nearly half anticipate the number of meetings they attend will only increase. People who are most motivated to achieve work goals are also most sensitive to the negative morale impact of a growing number of meetings, especially ones perceived as ineffective.
Yet, a deluge of emails punctuated by hours of meetings is not, in and of itself, a consequence of modern business practice. These issues sit firmly within the realm of company culture, and that means they can change.
Managers Can Unlearn The Urge For Constant Ad-Hoc Communication
Uncertainty is at the root of common email and meeting behaviors. Emails are sent when there is a need for clarity that cannot be resolved using the resources at hand or communicating within the immediate environment.
Meetings, on the other hand, can be called for a variety of reasons. However, many of them come down to trust: The meeting-caller is uncertain that a team can or will progress smoothly toward its goals without regular intervention. The advent of COVID-era remote work has made this role of uncertainty even clearer.
“Remote Managers Are Having Trust Issues,” declares a recent article in Harvard Business Review, and even if your work is 100% face-to-face, there is something to learn from the analysis. Years of research have made it clear that supervisors who cannot “see” their teams may struggle to believe work is truly getting done.
Yet, “seeing” is relative. Mistrust can manifest in the urge to micromanage remote workers by demanding they account for every minute of their time. Likewise, it can arise in a desire to call meetings when none are needed.
A manager’s subjective opinions of his or her subordinates are not, on their own, enough to vanquish mistrust. It cannot be resolved through retreats or team-building exercises, because this “bonding” has a temporary and ephemeral effect. To stop talking about work, leaders and their teams need something measurable.
They need key performance indicators.
Clear KPIs Create Trust By Putting Verifiable Results At The Forefront
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are measurable indicators of progress toward a business result. The “Key” in KPI underlines that, out of the many potential measures of progress, KPIs have been selected because they have a consistent, verified relationship with delivering the results desired.
In an employee’s workflow, KPIs occupy a space between strategic goals – which no one can deliver alone – and day-to-day processes and procedures the employee enacts every day. They measure process outcomes, but are not the processes themselves. Instead, they are statements of priority.
To clarify, imagine a customer service representative in a call center.
The intuitive KPI in this situation is something like calls completed. But a completed call will hardly move your business forward if a customer slams down the phone in frustration. Calls completed successfully may be a start toward a far better KPI, though the definition of successful must be considered carefully.
This highlights an important issue about KPIs: They must be chosen with care. Poorly defined KPIs cause teams to focus on the wrong things. For example, an e-commerce business may be very invested in getting more traffic, but since no effort is made to convert visitors into customers, traffic alone is a false measure of success.
Just like emails and meetings, KPIs are there to reduce uncertainty. They do so by clarifying what matters most in any situation where conflicting priorities come into play. To return to our customer service representative, it will take longer for her to try to upsell a customer than it would to end the call when the immediate problem is solved. Leaders must decide whether completing calls quickly is more or less important than revenue potential.
That choice, in turn, should be informed by data on how long customers are willing to be on calls.
Everyone in an organization should understand the KPIs that apply to their job role and to their team. It can also be helpful to know what KPIs apply to the function or division as a whole. However, remember that KPIs are Key: To be fully integrated into a person’s behavior, they must be relatively few in number.
KPIs cut down on unnecessary communication by acting as a North Star:
- Every team member knows precisely what actions influence their KPIs and how to perform them
- They are empowered to recognize opportunities for improvement individually and within the team
- They can monitor and manage time effectively, making sound decisions even when priorities conflict
KPIs also illuminate leadership decision-making at all levels. As KPIs are defined, tracked, and improved, mid-level leaders recognize them as a reliable guide to whether additional communication is necessary. Instead of calling meetings from the top down, leaders can step back to serve as a resource when teams recognize the need for further resources or other adjustments. That keeps projects on track proactively with less friction.
When KPIs are collected and monitored and the results are available at a glance, company culture can embrace decision-making through data. At the same time, a reduction in low-level distractions creates opportunities for greater productivity – and more appreciation for the value of others’ time, which boosts morale.
Culture change starts with a strategic vision. KPIs give that vision direction and momentum. To learn how you can change your enterprise’s culture for the better, contact Equal Parts today.