November 20, 2006
- by Robert E. Stevens, GENESIS II (The Second Beginning) E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
Over the years, I have written about the need for managers to get out from behind their desks and interact with their consumers and customers in the real world. For the first time, a couple of weeks ago, I asked a few managers about what it is that occupies their time? Almost to a person the responses focused on meetings and paper clutter. Reflecting back on my own work experience, decades ago, I can agree with their conclusion. But how do we eliminate meetings and paper clutter?
First, I think we need to understand each one of these animals, meetings and paper clutter. To do this I would like to share some of my thoughts and the thoughts of a couple of my friends.
Robert Kriegel and David Brandt, authors of "Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers" do an excellent job of
positioning meetings in our daily work life. As they say in their book, Are you Lonely? Working on your own? Hate making decisions? Hold a meeting! You can see people, draw flow charts, feel important, impress your colleagues and do it all on company time". Meetings have become the practical alternative to work. People aren't at their desks anymore, no one is answering the phone, no one's doing any actual work because they're all in meetings."
Managers spend 40 to 60 percent of their time sitting around talking to each other. Remember Milton Berle's classic line about committees? "They keep the minutes and lose hours." My problem with meetings is that we tend to compromise the best ideas to reach a conclusion.
The two biggest untruths that I recall were both in my early career. The first one involved that magic number that the government gave you that identified your social security account. As stated, at that time, this was your personal secret number, no one else would ever know or use it. OK, I trusted the govenment, what other option did I have. The second mistruth involved the emergence of the computer. We were told that the computer would save millions of tons of paper. The Greenies went so far as to tell us the number of trees that would be saved each year because of computer usage. Another belief shot down. The computer has not only generated additional tons of paper, but it may have been the downfall of many managers. As Peter Drucker states, "The computer may have done more harm than good by making managers even more inwardly focused. Executives are so enchanted by the internal data the computer generates, and that's all it generates so far, that they have neither the mind nor the time for the outside. Some believe that it's not age that is the main cause of memory
loss. They argue it's a problem of information overload, our memory disks are full."
We have too much paper work coming across our desks. Faced with this overload, we usually revert to reading summaries of reports and never look beyond page one to understand the fundamentals. I like to look at the task of reading a summary and a chef tasting his/her vegetable soup. You may be able to determine how good the soup is but it will do very little to help you to approach the improvement of the product without actually breaking the product down into its components and assessing the contributions of each. In much the same way, reading a summary will tell you where you stand at that point in time but it can do little to help you in the learning and understanding process.
Bottom Line: It is all about time management. Time is an expensive commodity. Use it wisely. Time is like money, you can spend it any way you want but you can only spend it once.