Management Memo: Two prudent time investments

Last month I stressed the need to consider management as a profession in its own right, equipped with its own body of knowledge and requiring its own skill development. As a follow-up, here are a couple of easily workable, common-sense techniques that can boost your managerial effectiveness while increasing the professionalism of your shop.

The “fifteen second pause” is a technique that you are unlikely to find in any managerial text book. The theory is quite straightforward: when one of your professionals presents you with a problem, generally it takes a very brief amount of time — say 7.5 seconds — to arrive at a solution. In the vast majority of cases, most of us do not continue past this point before giving the answer. By taking an additional 7.5 seconds, we can ask ourselves, “Now that I know what this person should do, how can I turn this into a learning experience?” By taking this extra time, your response will likely be different — and more helpful — than the one you came up with originally.

Of course common sense has to be the ultimate guideline in how far to push this technique, but I have found, during my management career, it can present development opportunities for your people.

This is a technique that can be used immediately, with little or no practice required. It is invaluable in ensuring that employees learn from problem situations (rather than getting precise instructions from you) and ensuring you do not inherit problems that should not be yours.

Often, such a dialogue starts with a professional who wants to get rid of a problem. By answering too quickly you may end up with that person’s monkey on your back. By taking an additional few seconds, the monkey remains where it truly belongs. What’s more, you have given some direction to the employee about how to get rid of the problem once and for all. And although the employee may not realize it at the time, she could be embarking on a significant learning experience.

Another effective management technique is the “insurance premium”, which is simply the time you need to invest once you have delegated a task or project to one of your people. For your own peace of mind, consider taking out such an insurance policy. The premium you will pay (i.e., the time you invest monitoring and directing what is going on) will be based on your judgment of the individual’s ability and willingness to do the assigned function. It may be a daily, weekly, or in some cases a monthly series of checkpoint meetings — whatever you think is required to ensure a good night’s sleep.

Managing your time

The intent of both of the techniques described above is to free up time — the discretionary time you need as a CIO to perform leadership functions: visioning, strategy setting and planning.

There are three driving forces which impose time constraints and impact your discretionary time: time imposed by your boss, time imposed by your peers (whether inside or outside the organization) and time imposed by your subordinates.

There is little you can do about the time imposed by the boss. If he needs some analysis done to support some brilliant notion that occurred to him while watching last night’s football game, there is little you can do but comply. You have more control over peer-imposed time if the proper working relationships are developed and there is genuine respect for one another. The maximum control you have is over subordinate-imposed time, and this comes largely from ensuring that people are doing their jobs, exploiting opportunities, owning problems, and not delegating them upwards to you, the boss. Investing a little of your time up front can save you a great deal of time later on.

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–Graham J. McFarlane, P.Eng., ISP, FCMC is a consultant who has worked with IT management, both in Canada and internationally, since 1978, focusing on improving IT effectiveness. Prior to this, he spent ten years with IBM Canada.

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