The Power of Women and Their Productivity

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iStock_000000175907XSmallRecent research has shown that Jamaica has more female managers than any other country. Also, unrelated research shows that women are better time managers.

Put the two together, and what do you get? Read this article recently published in the Jamaica Gleaner and you can find out… (the full text can be read here.)

How Women Might Solve Corporations’ Productivity Problems

A few weeks ago, Jamaicans woke up to a surprise announcement: we have the highest percentage of female managers in the world. While this certainly has social ramifications, it also means that we can leverage the power that women possess to solve our productivity problems.

However, the connection isn’t as simple as it seems. People often say that women are better are multitasking than men. Unfortunately, this is an oft repeated, but incorrect myth.

The confusion lies in the very definition of the word. Sometimes we use the term “multitasking” to refer to the juggling act that ambitious professionals must do to balance multiple roles, projects and responsibilities. Brigid Shulte, author of “Overwhelmed,” shared with me in a recent interview that women often assume the responsibilities of managing the home, in addition to their jobs. This isn’t real multitasking, it’s multi-project management.

Cognitive multitasking, which involves repeatedly switching one’s attention from one task to another, is where the modern challenge lies. Fuelled by new technology, we believe that by checking email in meetings, sending messages in the middle of conversations and texting while driving, are signs of being truly productive. Even worse: research shows that those who think they are better at doing two demanding tasks at the same time are fooling themselves: they are actually worse.

Fact: our brains are hard-wired for single-tasking, in which the best results come from being focused. Studies have shown that when we are forced to multitask in response to stimuli like a constant influx of email, our IQ drops by ten points. Furthermore, academic success has been linked to an individual’s ability to reduce distractions, doing the hard work needed to complete complex tasks.

Many of us are confused about the difference between the two kinds of multitasking, a fact I notice in my work with companies. As a result, employees don’t know how to be productive. In the absence of proper training, they mimic others in an attempt to get more done. Given the fact that there are more female managers, they are more likely to be copying a woman than a man.

The good news is that there are also studies showing that women are better time managers. While time itself cannot be managed, the research reveals that women are more at effective creating “time demands” and keeping them alive over long periods of time. (A time demand is an internal, individual commitment to complete an action in the future.)

Where does this ability come from? Studies show that women (and men) teach themselves critical skills as adolescents and faithfully continue them as adults. This ability sets them apart from their peers who might be just as intelligent, but don’t learn how to be productive. (If you can’t recall doing so, that’s normal.)

Although it’s not clear why teenage girls are able to pull this off, a good question to ask is: how can we in Jamaica use our situation to benefit our companies? If you are a woman, here are some ways to start.

1. Understand what multitasking really means. Distinguish between managing multiple roles or projects and cognitive multitasking. Teach others around you the pitfalls of those who develop the habit of switching their attention from one task to another. Explain the cost of “switch-tasking”: the small increment of time that’s lost when they swap one task for another. Be prepared to explain the difference over and over again until it becomes a widely understood fact.

2. Stop claiming that women are better at multitasking. It’s a confusing message that implies that this habit is somehow better. Instead, use facts and data: explain that women are better at managing time demands, and tend to teach themselves better habits that serve them later in life. Encourage others to do the same, even as you personally cut out behaviors such as pretending to listen while doing other tasks.

3. Give more time-based feedback. In her recent book, The NonVerbal Advantage, Dr. Carol Kinsey Goman showed that women have a capacity to give better feedback than men. They are better at picking up nonverbal cues, listening and showing empathy. Use these skills to step in and intervene. Coach others in ways to be productive by helping them see how they compare to world-class standards. Remember, many of your colleagues want to improve, but simply don’t know how. At the same time, cut out the blighs given away so freely: they only reinforce low standards.

On the face of it, Jamaica should be poised to improve its productivity because we have more female managers who tend to be armed with better time demand management skills. It may happen, but it will take the awareness, commitment and skills of one empowered woman at a time.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity. To receive a Summary of Links to past columns, or give feedback, email: columns@fwconsulting.com

To read the article on the Jamaica Gleaner site, click here.

More on Indian CEO’s of Family Firms

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This past week, a piece I had published in the Trinidad Guardian revisited an article I had written about before, focusing on the reasons why outside CEO’s are better than those from within the families of small firms.

2015-02-14 12.07.46Unfortunately, the article wasn’t published online, but here it is in its entirety:

Surprising Research from India: Non-Family CEO’s Are More Productive

It comes as a surprise to family-owned companies: external, non-Family CEO’s are more productive than their related counterparts, according to recent research.

A CEO’s time is precious, as shown by Oriana Bandiera, and her colleagues at the London School of Economics’ Executive Time Use Project. They recently concluded research of more than 350 Indian CEO’s and one of their important findings is that when an Indian CEO increases his/her time on the job by 1% percent, there is an increase in sales of 1.08%. Furthermore, there is a strong correlation between CEO’s schedule and sales revenue: the more time spent in executing explicitly planned activities, the better the financial results. The early indication is that unplanned hours at the top lose money for companies.

A CEO’s time management skills, therefore, have an outsized effect on their company’s fortunes. Unfortunately, as important as this skill may be, most top executives are left to their own devices. According to James Haskett of Harvard Business School, the same is true for their students. “…the philosophy has long been to eschew formal training in time management, instead overloading students purposely to force them to learn for themselves how to prioritize and become better time managers.”

Unfortunately, there’s growing evidence that in our age of tech-driven information overload, this approach isn’t working in either Cambridge, New Delhi or Port of Spain. In particular, it may be causing a problem for family CEO’s who don’t understand the impact their time management has on company results.

Family vs. Professional CEO Productivity
Bandiera’s research team also discovered that Family CEOs work fewer hours, make fewer plans, conduct fewer meetings, spend more time with outsiders, and engage in more one-on-one meetings. These activities are important because they are empirical predictors of success.

At first glance, there could be a good reason: some Family CEO’s argue that their job requires more than just generating profit. They have familial goals, the argument goes, and every conversation with a family member, at any hour of the day, doubles as a business meeting regardless of the topic.

During the course of writing my new book, the researchers assured me that they are looking at these causal factors in depth. For example, they have found that there’s less of a performance gap in industries that face high international competition, perhaps due to the pressure of higher standards.

To continue the comparison, they checked their data: Do these two types of CEO’s respond to the same surprise events in the same way? To test their hypotheses, they looked at two “exogenous shocks” as a means of comparing the reaction by each group. One was sudden downpours of rain and the other was big cricket matches; potentially time-wasting interruptions that we relate to here in Trinidad.

Rain and Cricket
The contrasts were stark: Family CEO’s responded to sudden rainfall by reducing the number of hours worked by 5%, while their counterparts showed a positive and significant increase: a 10% difference overall. (Once again, Family CEOs who face more foreign competitive pressure, were less disrupted.)

The finals of the IPL Cricket League, whose matches are broadcast at 3PM in the cities where the research was performed, generally attract a great deal of attention in India. On days with important finals, the data shows that Family CEOs reduced their hours worked by 10%, while their counterparts were unaffected. Also, Family CEOs didn’t make up the time lost, even though they argued that they do.

Given these findings, the authors rejected the notion that Family CEO’s are simply responding to unique demands. Their reaction to rainy days and cricket match finals was unproductive in comparison to their outside counterparts.

Actions to Take
Does this mean that your family-owned company should immediately replace the brother, daughter or cousin at the top with an outsider? No, but you should look for ways to give leaders the productivity skills that were never passed on by the founders. For example, given the correlation between planned hours and sales, it’s startling to learn that approximately 13 hours per week of an Indian CEO hours are completely unplanned. I doubt that local CEOs are much better. Many would protest: “If other CEO’s are liming, why can’t I?”

In one way, they aren’t much different from the average professional from any corner of the world: they rely on self-made productivity techniques that aren’t informed by global standards. Instead, they relax in the belief that being more effective than others immediately around them is enough.

In other words, Family CEO’s give themselves a “bligh” that needs to be taken away. From the research, it’s clear; it’s possible for them to do much, much better.

 

How to ensure a lack of time doesn’t ‘mash up’ your strategic plan

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I just had an article published in Trinidad’s Newsday newspaper that highlighted the reasons why poor time management skills routinely mash up the best made strategic plans.

How to Ensure a Lack of Time Doesn’t “Mash Up” Your Strategic Plan

As we enter the post-festival season, many local companies embark on fresh annual and quarterly strategies that just won’t succeed. Most executives will blame “the culture” but they are mistaken: it has more to do with their ineffective use of time.

If you are an executive you may relate to the problem. During the strategic planning retreat, brainstorming sessions generate a lot of new ideas. As the activities add up you feel a subtle but distinct discomfort, especially if you happen to be more experienced. You sense that everything on the list simply cannot get done. Furthermore, you mute your own objections because of the strong pressure to be a “team player.”

The best companies determine the cost of each strategic project plus the overall budget when they do their strategic planning. The rare few, according to McKinsey & Co.’s Bevvins and De Smet, will go further and complete a time budget. Why is it needed?

Most company executives focus on financial budgets first because they believe that cash is their scarcest resource. The new strategic plan must be made practical by selecting activities with the highest ROI – a widely accepted technique.

However, near the end of a retreat, tired executives rarely go the next step, asking themselves how much time needs to be budgeted for each new activity. In the months to come, they treat time as if it’s an infinite resource. This sets their strategy up for failure from the beginning, causing the discomfort I mentioned earlier. The problem isn’t a lack of time, however. It’s a deficit of skill.

Most will turn to “time management” skills for the answer, without understanding that it’s a misnomer: time cannot really be managed. Instead, they need to learn to manage a “time demand,” defined as an individual, internal commitment to complete an action in the future. This distinction is foreign to many executives in Trinidad and beyond, but it lies at the heart of time budgeting.

As a manager you may possess a secret – your methods for managing time demands are self-taught, starting around the time you took the Common Entrance or SEA. You did so early on, giving you an edge that has played an important role in your academic, career and organizational success.

However, being better than the average Caribbean person is no great accomplishment. The data I have gathered from regional workshops shows why individual productivity is low, even as the macro-economy might be growing. With respect to time budgeting, our skills are lacking at all levels of the enterprise, but here are four things that can be done to instill a new level of rigour in the C-Suite while executing your annual strategy.

1. Gain an appreciation of your current individual and collective skills at managing time demands. Do so by completing an informed self-assessment illuminating your methods and their relationship to world-class standards. You’ll probably find some critical behaviours you merely do each day, but have never thought about before. Your profile reveals the salient gaps.

2. Create improvement goals and a plan. These are easy to build based on the prior step. If you were well-trained in order to do a self-assessment then you should be itching to close the gaps. The temptation will be to try to change too many, too quickly. Resist it and go for small steps with lots of support.

3. Collect time data. Most professionals have only a gut knowledge of how long things take. The chances are high that you have never tracked your personal time as the McKinsey authors and also Peter Drucker, the management guru, recommend. For planning purposes, this discipline can be as important as tracking expenditures. Data should be collected on a programme basis also, so that teams in your firm can determine how to make successful project plans.

4. Manage packed calendars. The gradual removal of administrative assistants from C-Suite staff complements has pushed a number of new time demands into your lap. The problem isn’t about fetching coffee, however. Now, you are forced to manage the all-important activity of planning your time-starved calendar using technology that changes from day to day.

The McKinsey research shows that the effective executive makes full use of administrative assistance to coordinate demanding schedules. This helps them to preserve time devoted to “the flow state” – their most productive times spent alone doing their best work.

In the absence of this knowledge and the supporting mechanisms, it’s no surprise that many strategic plans amount to little more than overblown wish-lists. Unless local companies take their executives’ time demand management skills seriously, it’s safe to expect disappointments at this time next year.

Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity. To receive a free compilation of past columns, send email to columns@fwconsulting.com

Click here to read the article online.

The Stress of Being One of a Reliable Few

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In this article I contrasted the few who are reliable with the greater number who are simply flaky.

The Stress of Being One of a Reliable Few

Executives, managers and board members are always on the lookout for the special handful of employees who are completely reliable. Once they identify them, they come to depend on them, giving them greater responsibilities while shunning those who are seen as flaky. Is this the best company strategy in the long-term, especially if you are one of the reliable few?

The flood of information and time demands employees experience in Jamaican companies has not been matched by an increase in their skill. Most firms are staffed by too many flakes: “harem-scarem,” scatterbrained colleagues who cannot be trusted to complete future tasks. They may be quite likable and well-intended, perhaps even a favorite in some ways. However, at the end of the day they disappoint: their promised actions are rarely fulfilled.

The experienced professional eventually learns to tell the difference between the reliable and their counterparts, but only after being burnt. Past, negative experience is one reason reliable people are never let go, once they have been found.

If you happen to be one of these people, how should you react to increased workload and responsibilities? Here are some positive tactics to employ.

Tactic 1 – Grow Your Own Skills

Even if you happen to be the most reliable, productive person in your office, the chances are good that you are a big fish in a small pond: still far from world-class standards.

Data gathered in hundreds of self-evaluations in my training tells the truth. Even weak executives think they are highly accomplished in managing time demands. The truth is, they are not: instead, they are strong at thinking on their feet, learning how to fast-talk their way out of trouble without actually improving a single behaviour. Few around them have the knowledge or courage to show them otherwise.

Your movement to the next level of performance means giving up these tricks. It also means sacrificing the false comfort of being only better than the small circle of people around you.

Tactic 2 – Identify and Rely on Others

If you are someone who is reliable you may have come to believe that no-one else can be trusted, so you do everything yourself. You see delegation, which is the same as asking for help, as a weakness. As a result, you end up being stressed.

There is some justification. In the past, you tried to rely on colleagues, only to have them let you down. Time demands fell through the cracks, causing you to work overtime to prevent a disaster from happening. You decided to never again have someone determine your fate, resolving to do everything yourself.

In the beginning, this tactic worked, but no-one can escape the fact that there is a limit to the number of time demands even a competent worker can execute. Instead of throwing up your hands in despair, there’s another option: rely on others.

This tactic may fly in the face of your experience, but here’s a way to mitigate the risk.

First, weed out those who are completely flaky from those who are only sometime flakes. Start to work with the more capable few with a view to building a trusted network of reliable colleagues. Help them experience a sense of autonomy, purpose and mastery, which are the key to deep motivation. Leverage this network to get the best work done, enhancing your reputation. It’s what the best civil servants have learned to do. Within government ministries, skillful Permanent Secretaries do this by working closely with each other, sometimes over several years, from different positions.

Tactic 3 – Train Others

Having a network of “lesser flakes” is just a start. Coach them along by showing them the cost of being unreliable. Ask them to paint a picture of what their life would be like if they were to become more reliable. Then, persuade them to seek out world-class examples of high productivity. Offer yourself as a living example (without telling them to copy you,) sharing the high standards you aspire to in your daily work.

Most will have never read a book on the topic. Doing so is a great place to start for many, who simply don’t know what it’s like to work in an ultra high-performing team. Show them how to seize opportunities to improve by working with, and learning from, others with superior skills.

Unfortunately, many people won’t be interested in this kind of improvement right away, so prepare yourself for a process that may take many months. However, at the end, you’ll be surrounded by more than the ordinary incompetence that runs rampant. You’ll have a networked team that you can rely on, even if none of its members report directly to you. It can make all the difference to your company and your daily work experience.

http://jamaica-gleaner.com/gleaner/20150201/business/business6.html