Time-Taming: Managing your Mindset
16/04/2013 - "Time-Taming: Managing your Mindset" by Donal Carroll

Time-taming: Managing your Mindset

Is your business time a prison or an open door??  

 In the Superleague of myths –eg Thatcher was successful, the city attracts the country’s best minds…where do managers’ claim that ‘they don’t have time’ fit? Last week, en route to a consultancy assignment with senior managers on ‘Transforming traditional talent management’ I overheard a woman at Clapham Junction complain that a colleague ‘didn’t have time to prioritise’. Later, when I asked my consultancy group (feedback session 6 months into the work) what their greatest challenge was and how they responded, the majority said –you guessed it – ‘lack of time’. Remember these are all senior managers, and can more or less, determine their own diaries.  And can I stress they had all demonstrated, 6 months earlier, ‘their commitment’- they were convinced this work would enable them to meet their challenges in new ways and overall, increase their organisational capability.  

So as a consultant or coach faced with this, how would you respond? And get beyond the temptation to argue with them, or berate them as POWs (Prisoners of their World/System)*1

 The fact that ‘not having time’ is said with great conviction, as a self-evident truth does not make it true. To be fair, in my meeting it was said in a guilty way, and I’m aware of the range of possible assumptions here– they’d done some work but not enough, weak engagement, poor results etc.  

Yes everybody’s busy but that’s a given not a determinant, and used like that, it can soon lead to ‘we never have time to do anything here but we have time to do it badly.. and repeat it’. Now most consultants know how to respond when managers say something like ‘there’s nothing I can do/things can’t improve’. With ‘timelessness’ I use transformative questioning. I ask not ‘how much time do you need?’ but ‘what kind of time - maintenance or development?’ Maintenance time usually triggers a response like ‘25 hrs a day to do even more of what I normally do’ whereas development time is transformative, in forcing the managers to address why they ‘never have time’.  See i2i Ideas into impact on Critical Difference website. This usually works.

However, at this meeting, I wanted to hold them accountable and build a powerful ‘You can’t stay here’**  ie the managers’ current psychological state, which determines their orientation to the work. This requires discomforting. I used Beware the Busy Manager (Heike Bruch/ Sumantra Ghosha, HBR Feb 2002) which asks are the least effective managers the ones who look like they are doing the most? It usually has quite an impact, bringing evidence that only around 10% of managers are effective. These 10% work inside out (deciding first what they must achieve then managing their environment including obviously, time) while most managers work outside in (accepting outside constraints, including time). The difference: the effective managers work with a strong sense of personal volition. The article is a sustained attack on ‘we can’t control what we do’.

A key concept of ‘Transforming traditional talent management’ is the idea of mindset –how having a growth rather than fixed one can enable increased capability quickly.  We then discussed their time issue as one more of mindset. This moved things on. 

We ended with another extract from Ghoshal:

Managers are not paid to make the inevitable happen... In most organisations the ordinary routines of business chug along without much managerial oversight.  The job of managers therefore is to make the business do more than chug - to move it forward in innovative, surprising ways… 

How often, asked one manager, have staff called what we do ‘surprising’? 

 What approaches or techniques do you have as a coach or consultant, with traditional barriers or defensive issues arise, such as this one?  

 As for your time: prison or open door?

 Oh, going home, that familiar LT ‘we’re sorry for your delay’ at Vauxhall/Victoria. I got annoyed till I asked myself what I’d have done with an extra 15 minutes anyway!

Ref *1: The work of leadership Heifetz and Laurie HBR 1997    ** Coming soon ‘Gimme 5!’ a coaching technique based on this, on YouTube


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