The CEO Secret of Achieving More with Less Effort

The Yogi by MorkiRo

CEOs in elite 21st century companies seem to stay up-to-date to the on-goings in their business without making an effort.

According to a recent study, 90% of CEOs use majority of their work time focusing in a time period of only two weeks forward from now.

Conversely, CEOs in elite 21st century companies are able to focus on the next quarter, the next year and on even longer time spans without sacrificing most of their time trying to control the current events in the company.

I admit, I made up that leading research quotation to focus your attention to an important topic for CEOs and other executives: For most CEOs, staying up-to-date with the day-to-day events of the business is a full-time job. Knowing what happens in order to be prepared to react with fire-fighting manoeuvres when needed keeps CEOs from focusing on the long term development of their companies.

Executives like Ilkka Paananen of Supercell seem to do this effortlessly. They do not spend a lot of their time reading status reports of client projects, inspecting the time sheets of their employees or asking project managers whether a certain project will be delivered as per contract.

Hard work attracts more hard work

The art of providing visibility for the day-to-day business and providing predictability is counter-intuitive. You do not get better at it by working harder at it. Instead, the complex system that is your business may interpret your busyness as a CEO in this matter so that building this kind of visibility and predictability is solely your task and responsibility. So the more you work at it, the less support you get.

What those lazy elite CEOs do instead is delegate the responsibility of success of individual projects and even larger matters to the people doing them. That means making very clear that making sure everything runs fine is not solely a problem of the C-suite. In practice, that means demonstrating a certain kind of indifference to day-to-day matters.

Delegation is a skill, an investment and complex to boot

In my work as an organization coach and Management 3.0 trainer I’ve discussed with many managers who on one hand wish that their staff would take more responsibility on day-to-day matters but on the other hand have come to the conclusion that their staff is unable or unwilling to take on such a responsibility.

What is your guess on the top 3 reasons why delegation attempts of executives typically fail?

  • Lacking management skills of the executive
  • Employees lacking interest
  • Employees lacking motivation
  • Executive not communicating her needs clearly
  • Transparency of important information needed for decision-making
  • System and environment fostering improving together

What I have found is that the three last reasons mentioned in the list above are the most common. They are fortunately also the ones that leave hope for improvement. If the employees do not care there is not much of a future for the company.

I’ve found out that in many cases, the executive has not communicated her desire to delegate some of the responsibility to her staff clearly enough. While she may have said it on one or more occasions, usually she has communicated with words or actions the reverse message: I want to stay in control.

In order to take responsibility, employees need the same visibility to the state of day-to-day matters the executives are working hard to build and update. Otherwise the employees will be reluctant to share more responsibility than what their immediate zone of control covers.

Using Portfolio Kanban to let everyone into the inner circle

The trick is to include everyone in building and updating this visibility together. In general terms, Kanban is a good framework for this.

Kanban is a framework for teams to build a shared picture and understanding of their work and its flow from start to finish. It does not require changing any processes or practices upfront, but instead enables evolutionary improvement of ways of working collaboratively.

Kanban works because it facilitates constant communication in the team to keep the shared picture of what is happening updated. The time for this constant communication is free’d up as the team frees time for report-creation and other actions that produce more waste than actual value.

For more information on Kanban, see these talks from David Anderson, the author of original Kanban book and Pawel Brodzinski.

When you are dealing with a portfolio of client projects, Portfolio Kanban is your weapon of choice. It is a specific implementation of Kanban designed to provide visibility for multiple concurrent projects. In Portfolio Kanban, the flow of projects is visualized from pre-sales to after delivery.

Here is my talk from AgileJkl 2013 on Portfolio Kanban:

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For more information on Portfolio Kanban, here is Pawel Brodzinski’s excellent series of blogs on Portfolio Kanban.

Shared visibility is just a start

Visibility makes becoming responsible possible, but there is much more potential in your staff to unleash. Your staff can take the responsibility of most day-to-day decision-making, leaving you time to show the path on the strategical level and to face the biggest challenges in the face of your business.

For that, your staff needs three things: a clear shared purpose to work towards, a clear mandate to take the responsibility and continuous fostering of that mandate through trust and support. When your staff has these, they can become truly self-organized towards the purpose of your organization.

Management 3.0 is a collection of knowledge and concrete practices to inspire managers to who face the challenge of transforming the organization to be more innovative, with a higher productivity. Management 3.0 practices show the way to unleashing the potential inherent in your staff and supporting them to become self-organized. By doing that you are also making sure that your best people will stay in your company.

Read more about Management 3.0 coaching here.

What have you found important in providing visibility of work in progress and enabling more people to take responsibility? Let us know in the comments.

Antti Kirjavainen is an experienced coach and a linchpin. Antti is full of energy and has many interests – he is a knowledge work management thinker, product development coach, a Licensed Management 3.0 facilitator well as an active member of Agile Finland Ry, Agile4HR Finland and Agile Lean Europe network.

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