Executive Working Hours

18 Aug

From www.mcgeepost.com .Copyright © 2012 Michael H. McGee. All rights reserved. Please feel free to share or re-post all or part non-commercially, hopefully with attribution.

Top executives, as well as high level millionaire/billionaire entrepreneurs, often pride themselves on working very long and harrowing hours, and claim these long hours are necessary to reach their or their organization’s goals. In racking up so many work hours, these very fortunate and usually quite elegant persons tend to minimize the time spent with their families and in pursuing any personal emotional goals.

Bear in mind I’m not criticizing the integrity or accomplishments of anyone. I’m coming at this analysis from the perspective of an economist. A Very Busy Person at the highest levels will feel better inside and be more compassionate to self and others if all the parts of life, work, home and spiritual are expressed. By spiritual I include a bracing tennis game and time spent with family and friends and space for inner peace, not just time in church. Such a person can’t help but be a better leader and analyst.

Wouldn’t it be better if these Very Busy People hired a five or ten member executive team of people as smart or smarter than they are, then delegate as much of their actual work as possible to this scrum. These Very Busy People can then spend fewer hours per week, working only on top-top level work that takes advantage of core competencies. Their executive team can probably perform eighty per cent of the time-consuming physical tasks formerly performed by the top person, and then report their results to the top person for evaluation.

The team will need to be a tight enough unit so that when people talk or correspond with one member of the team, they will be absolutely certain that they’re talking with the executive in charge. Further, those making communications from the team will need to be absolutely certain that the decisions coming out of the team carry the binding weight of a decision reached by the executive in charge.

Such an arrangement will have several very satisfactory results. The primary result will be to free the top executives from their offices and work related tasks. Such an executive can then spend more quality time with spouse and family, engage in mindless sports and targeted exercise, and spend time alone to recharge the batteries.

My daughter Michelle asked me to add that a more balanced worklife may also lead to more women in top executive positions. The “work ’til you drop” corporate culture usually assumes the presence of a “wife” at home, and is thus biased against women in leadership positions.

Another result, if this becomes a general practice, particularly if the practice is cascaded down to the top fifty executives, will be to increase the number of Very Smart employees on the executive payroll. This upward pull within the executive suite will give bright outsiders, as well as rising inside employees, a place to rise further.

Those in these scrum positions will feel more needed and have more job satisfaction, and at the same time be able to learn the meaning of working at the top levels of an enterprise. Very Smart people often have to go through years of being bored with tedious and repetitive tasks before being offered a challenge fully worthy of their abilities.

This practice will also increase the overall employment rate, which translates to reducing the national unemployment rate, when the top fifty executives in each company and in each wealthy entrepreneurial venture establish such teams. Each one of the Very Smart people plucked to join an executive team will leave behind a vacancy in their present jobs.

Their replacements will likely be of two types. The first will be people who are fully competent for the lower-ranking jobs, yet with less stellar resumes and academic credentials. Such people will be less likely to be bored, and might even find the new “lower job” to be a stimulating challenge.

The second type will be younger Very Smart People, or older Very Smart People who’ve been shunted sideways or given up for one reason or another. These folks will have jobs with more responsibility and upon proving how Very Smart they are, will be in line for an executive scrum.

For many years the federal courts have practiced the principle I’ve described. Law clerks have assisted Justices on the Supreme Court of the United States since the first one was hired by Horace Gray in the 1880s. These law clerks are the best and the brightest of new law graduates and most have gone on to establish stellar careers of their own. US Appellate and District Court judges also delegate most of their substantive work to their clerks. In all cases the jurist uses only his or her core competencies, and the excellence of the outcomes over the last hundred years or so is indisputable.

There are some specialized situations where a transitory group of young scholars, replaced every year or so, will accomplish the desired result. The scrum of highly qualified and quickly replaced new graduates who ease the workload of Supreme Court justices is one very credible instance.

Primarily, though, I’m talking about a permanent set of positions to be filled by the best and the brightest from every age group. The incumbents will develop long-lasting relationships with their executives, and will leave only when promoted or recruited away.

Laura Vanderkam, in her new book “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think,” writes very lucidly about the concept of core competencies, as well as about trimming the workweek to its essentials. Most people don’t have the funding or the luxury to establish five to ten person executive teams around them. Simple delegation and a thorough Vanderkam analysis will bring about excellent results for them.

Top executives and high level millionaire/billionaire entrepreneurs do have the full financial ability to fund and operate such teams. Top level employed business executives are typically paid two million and more a year for their services. Adding another million or so to their budget for the additional five positions will not be a hardship for the company.

Maybe the divorce and family estrangement issues many top executives and high level entrepreneurs have could be lessened if they spent less time at the office and more time with those they love or doing leisure or group social activities, or just chilling out. Maybe these men and women will even find they were better able to make the crucial decisions that could take their organizations to the next level of success, or the next level of compassion, if they weren’t being nibbled at the fringes all day every day.

Law firms and accounting firms and medical practices and other professional groups can use a similar approach. The professionals can be organized into tight teams of five or more similarly credentialed professionals, with a designated number of staff at their disposal. The teams will work on the same cases or patients and be familiar with what each other is doing. Each team member will work no more than a forty to fifty hour workweek.

Extra needed time can be parceled out among the team members on a rotating basis, such as when a deadline or the care of a patient requires working around the clock. Since each member and assistant will be familiar with what the others are doing, there will be little loss of efficiency if, say, there is a long legal brief to write on a deadline and three or four of the team members participate in the writing. Travel, trial and engagement responsibilities likewise will be parceled out among team members so no one person is gone from home for too much time.

None of the attorneys, doctors or other professionals will be locked in at the office night and day to the detriment of family life, compassion to self and others, and reviving leisure activities.

I remember talking long ago to a brilliant and well-known solo practice lawyer in Raleigh, North Carolina. He said he’d started out in a large New York law firm after being recruited for his obvious talents. One afternoon he was excited because he had tickets to the opera that evening. Then one of his managers came rushing in and gave him an urgent assignment that would require him to stay in the office most of the night to have the project ready the next day.

He said he sat in his office that afternoon and held the urgent file in one hand and his tickets to the opera in the other hand. After weighing his options, he handed the file back to his manager along with his resignation, and went to the opera. Ever since that time more than twenty years ago, he’d been unwilling to work in a law firm, because he knew they would suck the life out of him. Fortunately he was bright enough to make a sterling reputation even while working alone (with probably an occasional all-nighter).

In conclusion, those who are at the top in business and the professions can make other choices which will preserve and perhaps increase their organizational results. Their choices may reflect more compassionate ways to avoid sucking the life out of themselves and those around them. Or not.

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