Working with new executives, either in new companies or newly appointed, you can always see how easily they forget the big picture. A second before starting they had all this grand ideas, plans for improvement, clear destinations.
Fast forward a week and now they’re neck deep in trying to stabilize systems, meeting prior deadlines, looking as if they know what they’re doing, and what not. Yet if you’re always heads down making sure you’re not tripping over your next steps, you will definitely miss all the great opportunities on the horizon.
Simply telling yourself you should be thinking more about the long term won’t do much good. I’ve seen time and time again that the only thing that works is making the effort to create the affordances needed in order to make sure bigger picture has its time on your calendar, as impossible as it may seem.
Executive Calendar Setup
First, I always recommend starting from assessing your last few weeks on your calendar (and even better is real time tracking for a week). This lets us see your current baseline: what percentage of your time is invested in leadership, long term thinking, strategy, and vision? This is likely 5% or so at the moment. Get that figure in front of you.
The next step is to make sure that you start carving out discretionary time to get that percentage higher. You might have a recurring event for a personal off-site every month, a 90 minutes block you set aside for yourself every other morning, etc. Do it and see how it starts making a difference, just like that. Guard these time slots.
There’s no need to hide the fact that you’re doing this, you should be very open, but do not allow those to become simple buffers everyone know they can grab you at. I know it can require some coaching, but if you stick to your guns these actually start trickling down. Your directors and managers will start thinking whether they are spending the right amount of time in these as well.
Next, this time becomes your platform to make sure the organization does the important things and not just the urgent stuff. Maybe use it to hire the new manager you need, or to mentor your new managers that need help. Or use it for kicking off the grandiose plans you’ve got.
I’ve seen amazing things come out of these initiatives, like big technical debt efforts that start with a manager taking a percentage of their time to manage the project and team mates that dedicate a portion of their week to doing these tasks. Or an “ongoing hackathaon” rotation where every week 2 other engineers are encouraged to do whatever they feel will advance their team.
We regularly spend time into the must-have maintenance: pager rotations, urgent bug fixes, etc. But why not make sure you, and then the rest of your team, invest the appropriate amount of time in big picture stuff? It’s easier than you think and it all starts with a few blocks on the calendar.
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