Leaders, Step Away From the Spreadsheet!
A senior leader in a Fortune 500 company told me last week that most of his day was spent “massaging the numbers” so that they would appear more favorable to the Board. I’ve observed leaders spending considerable time on that same set of activities, often described as “managing the numbers,” which involves adjusting, shifting, and manipulating numbers on spreadsheets. The purpose is often to create an outcome that looks more favorable than the current state.
It happens with P&L’s, sales forecasts, market data, expense budgets, R&D pipelines, and so forth. Managing numbers can create a false sense of productivity and even security. It’s a way of feeling that you’ve got a handle on what is happening or what could happen.
While it’s absolutely necessary to pay attention to the primary analytics used to manage your business, there is a big problem with the considerable efforts that are dedicated to looking at figures on a spreadsheet. The fact is, you can’t really “manage” numbers. Try as you may, your efforts will only occur in digital or paper form.
But, you can manage people!
Rather than blame “poor execution,” focus on three things you can do when formulating, presenting, and managing your strategy.
1. You can manage people in terms of what they are doing. Using your strategy as your guide, you can manage priorities, focus, and decisions.
2. You can apply coaching, guidance, and feedback, you can manage how well people perform critical functions.
3. You can spend time with individuals and groups in person. Use video conferencing or the phone when being in person won’t work. (However, avoid conference calls with more than 4-5 people-you know they aren’t effective and research indicates that 47% of people are going to the bathroom. If this doesn’t deter you, I don’t know what will.)
In fact, when you provide people with great leadership, they’ll frequently outperform the numbers on your spreadsheets. If you want to check out my research on this from my first Harvard Business Review article, click here.
If you want to make a difference, become a real influence, and have a game-changing impact on the results, step away from the spreadsheet. As a leader, it’s your job to produce results. Investing your time, efforts and resources in people, rather than “massaging numbers” will have the greatest impact on bottom-line outcomes.
I’ve worked with a cartoonist to capture some of the humorous things I see in organizations. I’ll share them every other month and I hope you enjoy them as much as I did create them!
A Slice of Life Balance
We all need some time for ourselves. But with our many obligations, commitments, and responsibilities, scheduling that time usually falls too low on the list of priorities. Exercise and self-care activities are at the basic levels, and some people need to start there. But the real benefits start to accrue when you allow for space to reflect on something that’s happened or think ahead. Spend time writing notes in a journal or just sitting quietly and allowing your mind to wander. That won’t happen with your smartphone nearby either. Silence is a powerful tool for problem-solving, making connections, and even innovation. But if you want it to work for you, you’ll need to carve out the time for it. Try dedicating 15 minutes for quiet reflection sometime over the next few days and see what comes to mind.
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