Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Time - The Secret Element in Success

How the Power of Time can ensure corporate success

Jantar Mantar, Jaipur, India - During a recent visit to Northern India covering  Goa north, we came across this little known sundial (observatory) park in Jaipur. It was an amazing find!  As I wandered around looking at the truly amazing instruments they constructed, I began to think about time in a much different way. I reflected on the many time management seminars I’ve attended and books I have read that didn’t work for me or anybody else I knew.
I still feel the need to figure out how to effectively “stretch” my day. Some people seem to have figured it out. We’ve all heard about people who are successful beyond the levels others are able to realize. So, what’s the secret? We have all been taught a variety of time management disciplines, yet few are successful. As I pondered the ancient sundial, it occurred to me that we have been ignoring a basic wisdom.We have been taught to use time as a way of managing our own lives, which is exactly what we should NOT do. Here’s what I discovered on that beautiful day in India. 
Between 1727 and 1734 Maharajah Jai Singh II built these “astronomical observatories” called "Jantar Mantars," incorporating multiple designs, each with a unique form and purpose. These enormously large structures, with their striking combinations of geometric forms, have captivated the attention of architects, artists, and art historians worldwide, yet remain largely unknown to the general public.

Passionately interested in mathematics and astronomy, Jai Singh adapted and added to the designs of earlier sundials to create architecture for astronomical measurement that is unsurpassed.  Early Greek and Persian sundials contained elements that Jai Singh incorporated into his designs, but the instruments of the Jantar Mantar are more complex and built at much greater scale.The site consists of 14 major geometric devices for measuring time. They predict eclipses, track star locations, ascertain the declinations of planets, and perform other astronomical measurements. The Samrat Yantra, the largest instrument, is a sundial nearly 90 feet high. Its carefully plotted shadow is remarkably accurate, determining the time within about two seconds. Its shadow moves visibly at 1/3 of an inch per second, or roughly the width of a hand every minute. It’s stunning to behold. 

Other instruments include the Ram Yantra whose primary function is to measure the altitude and azimuth of celestial objects, including the sun, and the Shasthansa Yantra, which gives extremely accurate measurements of the zenith, distance, declination, and diameter of the sun. The Mishra Yantra is another surprising edifice as it is able to indicate when it is noon in various cities all over the world. And this was done almost 300 years ago! 

As I spent the better part of the afternoon watching these amazing instruments work, and considering how important time was even then, it reminded me of one of the fundamental principles required for success that is too often overlooked: How we value time. Not how we’ve been taught to view time, but how we can effectively use time to make us far more productive and proficient. Learning how to treat time can change the very way we think and act, and it dramatically impacts culture. Collaboration, as an example, takes an investment of time but it opens new opportunities to attain higher performance levels. A commitment to a collaborative culture, and the time it requires, is one of the fundamental differences between leaders and managers. Managers (in the traditional sense of the word) are a function of a hierarchical management system that is largely obsolete. Strict management hierarchy was developed by the military to ensure communication throughout the organization. Today we have technology at our fingertips enabling communication directly, without the filter each person might give it. 

What would happen to an organization that began seeing executives as leaders rather than managers, and employees as producers rather than labor? Management implies authority while leadership implies truly enabling and empowering employees. Labor implies strict adherence to policies and processes. A producer implies ownership and engagement. 

A recent poll suggests that as many as 70% of all employees are disengaged. Applying time differently can radically change the results of that survey. It further suggests this awful result is a function of how we treat time. When we treat time as “ours,” we can’t be as responsive to our producers as they might need. We can’t be as open to interruptions that allow good ideas to surface. However, when we see our time as an opportunity to come along side our producers and compensate for weaknesses they may have, we make them better employees. It reassures employees that leadership is approachable. This method is a far better use of time than the traditional performance review that takes too much time to document and is not an effective motivator. 

Moving toward a culture of collaboration provides a significant opportunity to change our view of the organization. It allows us to view those at the senior levels as leaders versus mangers, and to relegate the idea of “labor” to the ash heap of obsolescence, replacing it with “producers.” Committing to a collaborative environment serves to “stretch” time by dramatically increasing productivity.   

Consider the need for transformation versus the standard consultant mantra that “all we need to do is improve a little each day.” To be sure, a careful examination of every phase of our business is critical, and looking for ways to improve is important, but even if you make the best buggy whip ever, there is still no market for it. Buggy whip companies needed a new idea, a new concept, a new direction. They had to transform or die. 

Where will transformation in your company come from? Will it come from the Executive Suite? Possibly, but more often the idea lies right there on the factory floor or in the head of the sales people who are out in the market every day. The discovery of the transformational idea normally requires acts of faith and a willing ear by leadership. 

So, let’s get back to the time quotient! How do we view interruptions? Most managers see them as impositions on an already busy day, so they either don’t carve out the time to hear the idea or they give it less than full attention. I remember my wife, as our girls were growing up, knowing far more about what they thought and what they were doing than I did. When I asked how she knew so much, she replied, “I was ready to listen when they were ready to talk.” Therein lies a transformational thought! If we view interruptions as potential opportunities, rather than impositions, we will treat our producers and our time with more respect. The result will be a collaborative culture. Such a transformational concept is rarely invoked because we just don’t take the time to do it. Many great ideas are the result of leaders using time as opportunity: the digital camera, the ATM, the post-it note, the internet and email for instance. The list is impressive. These winners have learned to harness the power of using time collaboratively.

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