I recently had breakfast with a senior partner of an exceptional accounting firm in London, he is a personal friend and associate, we often meet to discuss many strategic topics and met to discuss my new book, “Meaningful Conversations”. During the course of breakfast we decided to focus on one of his questions: ‘What is the most valuable commodity we all have today?’ The answer I gave was ‘time’.
So, what exactly is time and how do we qualify time?
According to Wikipedia, Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future. Time is a component quantity of various measurements used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events or the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change of quantities in material reality or in the conscious experience. Time is often referred to as the fourth dimension, along with the three spatial dimensions.
Actually, time is something none of us can get more of, so the management of time is one of the most important aspects of what you need to do as a purposeful leader.
One of the best analogies you can use in your company regarding time is asking your employees to equate one hour of time to one pound. When I was in corporate management, I would ask my directors who entered my door:
1. Is that a one pound decision?
2. One hundred pound decision?
3. Or a one thousand pound decision?
If they would answer option 3 they could take a seat.
It really is helpful to look at your time just as you look at investing your money. Because, in essence, you are looking for the same result: you are looking for the best return on your time.
Taking this thought process one step further, let’s ask the question, “Who am I spending my time with?” All too often, managers spend their time where the problems are, not where the results are. While we need to deal with problems, we want our focus to be on results. Our job as leaders puts us in a position where we have to deal with problems and poor performance. But we need some parameters to help us understand both the issue of time and the investment of time.
One of the most touted management/leadership teachings out there is: “Spend 80 percent of your time with your top performers.” Another is: “Your team should be measured based on the 20 percent top performers, 70 percent role players and 10 percent poor performers.” In theory, I agree. But I think these teachings fall short. Not enough is written, or taught, about the critical 80 percent of your workforce and how to improve their performance through minimum performance standards.
Time is seen in a particularly different light by Eastern and Western cultures, and even within these groupings assumes quite dissimilar aspects from country to country.
In the Western Hemisphere, the United States and Mexico employ time in such diametrically opposing manners that it causes intense friction between the two peoples.
In Western Europe, the Swiss attitude to time bears little relation to that of neighboring Italy.
Thai’s do not evaluate the passing of time in the same way that the Japanese do. In the UK the future stretches out in front of you. In Madagascar it flows into the back of your head from behind.
Let us begin with the American concept of time, for their’s is the most expensive, as anyone who has had to deal with American doctors, dentists or lawyers will tell you.
For an American, time is truly money. In a profit-oriented society, time is a precious, even scarce, commodity. It flows fast, like a mountain river in the spring, and if you want to benefit from its passing, you have to move fast with it. Americans are people of action; they cannot bear to be idle. The past is over, but the present you can seize, parcel and package and make it work for you in the immediate future. In the U.S. you have to make money, otherwise you are nobody. If you have 40 years of earning capacity and you want to make $4 million, that means $100,000 per annum. If you can achieve this in 250 working days, that comes to $400 a day or $50 an hour. With this orientation American’s can say that their time costs $50 an hour. Americans also talk about wasting, spending, budgeting and saving time.
This seems logical enough, until one begins to apply the idea to other cultures. Has the Portuguese fisherman, who failed to hook a fish in two hours, wasted his time? Has the Sicilian priest, failing to make a convert on Thursday, lost ground? Have the German composer, the French poet, the Spanish painter, devoid of ideas last week, missed opportunities that can be qualified in monetary terms?
The Americans are not the only ones who sanctify timekeeping, for it is practically a religion in Switzerland and Germany, too. These countries, along with Britain, the Anglo-Saxon world in general, the Netherlands, Austria and Scandinavia, have a linear vision of time and action. They suspect, like the Americans, that time is passing (being wasted) without decisions being made or actions being performed.
These groups are also monochronic; that is, they prefer to do only one thing at a time, to concentrate on it and do it within a fixed schedule. They think that in this way they get more things done — and more efficiently. Furthermore, being imbued with the Protestant work ethic, they equate working time with success: the harder you work — the more hours, that is — the more successful you will be and the more money you will make. This idea makes perfect sense to American ears, would carry less weight in class-conscious Britain, and would be viewed as entirely unrealistic in Southern European countries, where authority, privilege and birth right negate the theory at every turn. In a society such as existed in the Soviet Union, one could postulate that those who achieved substantial remuneration by working little (or not at all) were the most successful of all.
Richrd Lewis who wrote “When Cultures Collide” has a view that in countries inhabited by linear-active people, time is clock- and calendar- related, segmented in an abstract manner for our convenience, measurement, and disposal. In multi-active cultures like the Arab and Latin spheres, time is event- or personality-related, a subjective commodity which can be manipulated, molded, stretched, or dispensed with, irrespective of what the clock says.
“I have to rush,” says the American, “my time is up.” The Spaniard or Arab, scornful of this submissive attitude to schedules, would only use this expression if death were imminent.
In a Buddhist culture (e.g., Thailand, Tibet), not only time but also life itself goes around in a circle. Whatever we plan, however we organize our particular world, generation follows generation; governments and rulers will succeed each other; crops will be harvested; monsoons, earthquakes and other catastrophes will recur; taxes will be paid; the sun and moon will rise and set; stocks and shares will rise and fall. Even the Americans will not change such events, certainly not by rushing things.
Cyclic time is not seen as a straight road leading from our feet to the horizon, but as a curved one which in one year’s time will lead us through “scenery” and conditions very similar to what we experience at the present moment. Observers of cyclic time are less disciplined in their planning of the future, since they believe that it cannot be managed and that humans make life easier for themselves by “harmonising” with the laws and cyclic events of nature. Yet in such cultures a general form of planning is still possible, for many things are fairly regular and well understood.
As a business leader, you must understand the value of making a time management decision on where to spend your time to get the most beneficial results for your company. Your top 20 percent will always perform at a high level, and you do need to devote time to coaching them to even greater success. That’s a very good use of 80 percent of your time and effort. The other 20 percent of your time, focused on the remaining 80 percent of your workforce or team, should be used to establish, communicate and promote the minimum standards for working at your company. The message you want to communicate is, “You have to work at a certain level if you want to work here.” You must clearly establish that you no longer allow employees to come to work and just exist without being accountable to minimum standards.
If you adopt this concept, you will find that 80 percent of your employee base will contribute to the growth and success of your company or department, and your top 20 percent performers will be inspired to try even harder. The point is, your top performers will always perform at a high level. You do need to invest your time with them to coach them to even greater success. Using the remaining 20 percent of your time to raise the standards of the other 80 percent of your employees will create an environment of incremental growth through your largest body of employees.
What is the conclusion around the true worth of time?
My belief is, know your value and do not accept being treated in a way less than you deserve. You must have realistic expectations, demands and a sense of entitlement. I am saying that as an individual you need to be treated the way you treat others, and vice versa. The minute you negotiate your self-worth and accept less, you say to the universe that you do not deserve any better, and the vicious cycle/patterns will start to begin. Change for yourself and of course, friends and partners are a great mirror reflections that help you grow.
Finally, time is not money, the truth of the matter is ‘the time is money’ adage has got us all into a lot more trouble than we realise. Because we live our lives based on the misleading premise that time is money, we attempt to do more in less time. We begin to confuse activity with productivity, as if the ‘doing’ will grant us ‘being’. Inadvertently, we jump on the hamster wheel, running as fast as we can with a competitive mentality about the clock and what it supposedly represents in our lives and in the lives of others. We have a negative relationship with time that gives us a sense of time starvation instead of abundance. Even our precious vacation time is not immune from the time-money equation.
This quote is an inspiring reminder:
“But the most exciting, challenging and significant relationship of all is the one you have with yourself. And if you can find someone to love the you, you love, well, that’s just fabulous.”