Business owners, CEOs, and general managers are familiar with Return On Investment (ROI). They recognize that money invested must create a solid profit. But chances are that they don’t pay as much (or any) attention to the even more important Return On Time (ROT).
While we can add or curtail financial investments, the clock never stops. We can neither add hours to our days, nor subtract from them. Each day provides a finite 24 hours to invest—or to spend. Invested time, by definition, creates a return. Expended time does not.
As business executives, we generally take a dim view of employees who waste time on the job. Unfortunately, a recent Forbes article indicates that 89% of employees today admit to wasting time at work every day. About two-thirds stated that they wasted between 30 minutes and one hour of paid work time daily, with the other third wasting between two and five hours every day!
The employees surveyed shared their time-wasters as follows: talking on the cell phone and texting, gossiping, surfing the Internet, social media, snack or smoke breaks, personal email, distraction by co-worker drop-bys, and unnecessary meetings.
Clearly, the impact of this list of time-wasters has an outrageous impact on ROT. What can we, as leaders, do to counteract this pervasive problem?
Here are 7 strategies to improve the ROT of your organization:
- Start with yourself. A CEO client of mine complained that many of his employees consistently came in late to work, even after he had brought the problem to their attention. In the course of our conversation, I asked “When do you come into the office?” He replied that he was in every morning at 7:30am—except on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, when he played golf in the morning. When I suggested that his example might be part of the problem, he responded, “But it’s my company, and I only do this in the summer!” Nevertheless, he finally agreed that his behavior was inconsistent with what he expected from his employees. When he changed, so did they!
- Define desired work outcomes. In most companies, the focus should be on what gets accomplished, rather than “looking like you’re staying busy all the time.” Some of the businesses recognized as “The Best Companies to Work For” allow significant autonomy to their employees—once they have clearly defined the financial, customer, and operating outcomes they expect. Performance is generally measured by the achievement of these outcomes, not by the activities that drive them.
- Make your “time investment” expectations clear. Start with the assumption that employees want to do a good job, and ask yourself: Have we clearly defined what is acceptable use of time, and what is not? What part of cell phone, texting, and Internet use is out of bounds? How long should breaks be? These issues should be dealt with in written workplace and HR policies.
- Set clear guidelines regarding gossip, including sharing of confidential company information. Most owners, CEOs, and general managers assume that employees recognize the dangers of gossip and sharing confidential information. However, employees may be unaware of the implications of disparaging the company, mocking its clients, or gossiping about fellow workers, especially when they are carrying on these activities online. It is increasingly difficult to ensure that such activities on the Internet will stay private. Being crystal clear on the company’s policy in this regard may well save the career of valuable employees who otherwise might slip into these behaviors.
- Appropriately filter the Internet. In today’s world, Internet filtering devices are imperative. Forbes puts it this way: “Blocking social media sites is probably too extreme a measure; however, every company must protect itself from the potential liability of employees being confronted by unwanted material while at work, as well as blocking the malware that arrives through illegal and unsavory sites.”
- Observe, but don’t micro-manage. Give
your people time to improve. Where you observe lapses, be honest without being hyper-critical. If your employees are like many others, they will have established some habits that will need to be addressed. Help them to acknowledge the need to do so. Recognize and reinforce those who are highly productive.
- Walk your Talk. Strategy #1 was to “Start with Yourself.” It’s also a good place to end. When you increase your own ROT on the job, others will follow!
Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.