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How managers can free up one month a year


Ulrica Ambjörn

Personal & Ledarskap

30 January 2014



PA strategy expert is quoted in an article on managers and productivity, published in the Swedish business magazine, Personal & Ledarskap.

The article looks at how managers can streamline their work by 15–20 percent and draws on the findings of a study conducted by the London Business School and PA Consulting Group between 2011 and 2013.

The study followed 45 managers representing 39 large companies from eight industry sectors. It looked at how they worked over a period of three weeks and then reallocated their working hours, focusing freed-up time on priorities identified by the managers themselves.

Andreas explains that managers were asked to examine in detail how they spent their time:“It was not acceptable to simply state ‘meeting’. They had to report the purpose of the meeting and what their reasons for participating were.”

To help managers use their time more effectively, each manager was asked to consider:

  • What is important to me in my work and in the role of manager?

  • Does my work in a normal week support these goals? 

  • Which meetings and tasks should I pursue, delegate or even cancel?

  • What new tasks do I need to get into my calendar?

  • How do I ensure proper focus of my work over time?

The result of the completed study showed that, by reviewing their use of time, managers succeeded in streamlining their work by 15–20 percent.

A follow-up to the study showed that the companies that had participated are now providing their employees with more support to help them become more efficient and focus on the right things.

“Obviously, there is something that prevents each of us from streamlining our work like this on our own,” explains Andreas. “Perhaps it is a fear of delegating tasks to someone else and having to accept that others might do the job as well as we do. We need models and support in the form of concrete tools to analyse how we work, to question it and to encourage us to change our behaviour.” 

Andreas recommends individuals involve their line manager in the process so that both parties gain an understanding of how current priorities may require tasks to be cancelled or delegated to others. The HR department can also contribute by taking a more active role in reviewing and reworking employee job descriptions.

“By mapping overall business objectives to individual job descriptions, the role of each employee becomes clearer and the process can even have a positive impact on motivation,” says Andreas. He argues that, as a result of restructuring and cost efficiencies, managers worry whether they have the right skills or are good at their job. To compensate, they try to be everywhere, losing focus as a result.

Andreas acknowledges that setting up metrics to clarify and develop the productivity of knowledge workers is difficult. He recommends managers spend more time on identifying KPIs that support the team/group’s objectives, and on identifying which tasks and processes need to be prioritised in order to reach those objectives. 

Finally, Andreas comments that most organisations need to be much better at accepting variations in how individual employees work and should avoid setting general rules for how different tasks should be performed.

“I see HR playing a key role as a counterweight to general rules,” he says. “Part of HR’s responsibility is to understand that employees work differently and to ensure variations in behaviour are accepted by the organisation.”

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