“Too many companies are living in yesterday’s world. They are seeking competitive advantage through traditional methods, and they aren’t finding it. And they are missing their main opportunity for boosting performance and outstripping competitors. Let us explain what we mean.”
With these opening words of their new book, Time, Talent, Energy, Bain consultants Michael Mankins and Eric Garton launch a combination manifesto and manual urging companies to stop focusing on acquiring and managing the principal scarce resource of the past — capital — and instead focus on acquiring and managing the scarce resources that truly make a competitive difference today: the time, talent and energy of your best people.
Confronting the Productivity Killer
Unlike capital, which is easier to locate and access than ever before, the authors’ research shows that the time, talent and energy of leaders and employees are becoming more and more scarce. To be successful, the authors write, companies must ensure that their employees are the most productive they can be — that is, that they use their time productively and that they pour their talent and their energy into their work.
Most productivity books are focused on the individual. However, Mankins and Garton have a different message: “It’s not your employees’ fault that they are not as productive as they could or should be; it’s your organization’s fault.”
Most organizations are undermining their employees’ productivity with roadblocks and obstacles. The authors call these organizational obstacles “organizational drag.” “Organizational drag slows things down, decreasing output and raising costs,” they explain. “Organizational drag saps energy and drains the human spirit. Organizational drag interferes with the most capable executive’s and employee’s efforts, encouraging a ‘What’s the use?’ attitude… It’s time for companies to confront this productivity killer head on.”
The authors’ analysis of the time budgets of 17 large corporations indicates that time is still a scarce resource that is being squandered. Some of the culprits are well known, including a tidal wave of e-communications and meeting time that, according to the study, has skyrocketed. In addition, real collaboration is limited: most meetings, the authors write, are within departments, not between functions or business units.
Unfortunately, there are few controls and few consequences for time-wasting processes. The authors give the example of a large manufacturing company where a regularly scheduled 90-minute meeting of midlevel managers costs the company $15 million annually. When exploring the origins of the meeting, the manufacturer discovered that “Tom’s assistant” had scheduled the meeting, and the managers just went along. “In effect, a junior vice president’s administrative assistant was permitted to invest $15 million without supervisor approval,” the authors write.
One of the first prescriptive lessons offered by the authors in the book is, indeed, to “invest time as carefully as you invest money.” Specifically, the authors urge companies to be ruthless in setting priorities (ask, Is the return on time worth the time invested?); to create a fixed time budget and reduce it wherever possible; and to establish clear delegations of authority for time investments.
The authors also provide guidance on running productive meetings and spend an entire chapter on how to simplify a company’s operating model. On the issue of talent, the authors describe how companies should find and develop what they call the “difference makers” and deploy all-star teams. Managing energy requires a focus on employee inspiration and not just engagement.
The authors acknowledge that many of their prescriptions might seem like common sense — yet many companies fail miserably to implement these ideas because of a culture that kills any effort to combat organizational drag. How to build a performance culture is the final chapter of this straightforward and highly valuable manual intended, as the book’s subtitle promises, to help companies “unleash your team’s productive power.”