You don’t need me to tell you that time is our most precious resource. But in business we often don’t safeguard it very well.
Imagine if we looked after cash the way we looked after time? The monthly bank statement would be the size of the now defunct Encyclopedia Britannica, detailing pages and pages of tiny payments. And who would want to be the accountant trying to work out what it all related to? Not me for sure!
Of course it’s completely impractical to account for time in the same way as cash, but we can get better at helping our people spend it wisely in the first place. And one way to do that is to help individuals with their daily prioritisation decisions.
“If it wasn’t alarming it would be funny,” said “Jim”, CEO of “Browns”, after he had experimented with the technique that I’m going to outline below. “I honestly couldn’t believe that half our people were getting their priorities so wrong, it was like they were working upside down. No wonder we were inefficient.”
Browns was a business that had grown quite rapidly in staff numbers and revenue but had a stagnant bottom line. Jim worked on a number of initiatives to improve the way the business worked. This is one that really seemed to make a difference, let’s call it “the daily prioritisation”.
For one week after the normal Daily Huddle (you do do one, don’t you?), Jim’s team leaders spent five minutes one-on-one with each team member:
- On days 1 to 4 the team leader asked the team member to talk through the work they had on and in what order they were going to tackle it that day.
- The team leader then asked the team member to keep a record of which tasks they actually did and when.
- On days 2 to 5 the team leader and team member reviewed the time record for the previous day and discussed how the tasks had been prioritized.
- The team leader didn’t tell the team member how to prioritise the tasks but rather asked them to explain how they had decided the order in which tasks were undertaken. And how they had decided which tasks not to do!
By the end of the week, the team leaders found that most of the team members were making radically better daily prioritisations, simply because they were thinking constructively about what to do and when to do it.
A few team members did need a couple of extra pointers. And that’s because they misunderstood the relative importance of aspects of the business. These misunderstandings were quite consistent through the organisation, so Jim then did a business-wide re-education program on the strategy and how the business made its money.
All up, the daily prioritisation was a quick and easy technique that got the employees at Browns using that oh-so- sacred resource, time, much better.
Have you got time to try it?
Julia Bickerstaff’s expertise is in helping businesses grow profitably. She runs two businesses: Butterfly Coaching, a small advisory firm with a unique approach to assisting SMEs with profitable growth; and The Business Bakery, which helps kitchen table tycoons build their best businesses. Julia is the author of How to Bake a Business and was previously a partner at Deloitte. She is a chartered accountant and has a degree in economics from The London School of Economics (London University).