CEOs may have significant resources at their disposal. They may wield influence and power. But one thing all CEOs are short of is time.
A new study, published in Harvard Business Review, aims to explore how CEOs spend their time, how this compares to others, and what this means for their effectiveness.
We summarise the findings here.
What the CEO prioritises, gets done
The research findings state that ‘The way CEOs allocate their time and their presence – where they choose to personally participate – is crucial, not only to their own effectiveness but also to the performance of their companies…A CEO’s schedule (indeed, any leader’s schedule), then, is a manifestation of how the leader leads and sends powerful messages to the rest of the organization.’
With this the case, the way the CEO spends their time is crucial to the effectiveness and success of the organisation they lead.
CEOs put in the hours
The leaders in the study worked 9.7 hours per weekday on average, as well as working on 79% of weekend days and on 70% of days they had taken as holiday. On average, each CEO in the study worked an average of 62.5 hours a week. It’s a relentless role.
With just under half (47%) of their work done at company headquarters, this means that a significant amount of the week is spent visiting other company locations, meeting external contacts, commuting, traveling or working at home.
They have agendas
The research found that most CEOs have clear agendas to help them prioritise and prevent them from being side-tracked by an ever-growing list of conflicting demands.
The authors suggest that this type of agenda is central to chief executives’ ability to pursue their core objectives. So much so that they suggest that ‘every quarter CEOs make a point of looking back at whether their schedule for the previous period adequately matched up with their personal agenda’.
Of course, not everything fits neatly into a set agenda. The CEOs interviewed spend 36% of their time dealing with unplanned events – which, as the research identifies, is often necessary to prevent potential issues from ballooning into larger ones.
Their direct reports provide crucial support
CEOs’ direct reports – their board and senior leadership – are identified as vital; essential supports to the smooth running of the CEO role.
As well as being valuable resources to delegate tasks and responsibilities to, these senior leaders help to define and execute the strategy of the organisation – arguably, the most important role of the chief executive.
By setting a clear strategy and harnessing the support of trusted leaders to deliver it, the CEO can help himself (usually) or herself to maximise their own time. As the report says, ‘without clarity on strategy, the CEO will be drawn into too many tactical decisions’.
They need to manage meeting time effectively
A significant amount of CEO time is spent in meetings. On average, the leaders in the study had 37 meetings of assorted lengths in any given week, spending 72% of their total work time in meetings.
The authors suggest CEOS check that all meetings they attend are essential. Meeting length should also be reviewed, as shortening meetings ‘can significantly enhance a CEO’s efficiency’.
The report goes into far more detail on these and other areas of CEO time management, looking at leadership; external relationships; and the chief executive’s sphere of influence, among other issues.
How can CEOs optimise their time?
Having looked at just some of the time challenges, how can CEOs make the most of their time when their demands are so many and varied?
1. Make the most of travelling time. Non-HQ time comprises a significant portion of the average CEO’s week. To avoid this time being wasted, your CEO needs to be able to work, which means having access to key documents while they’re on the move. Enabling board papers and other documents to be accessed on- or offline can be a big help in helping CEOs to keep on top of their reading demands.
2. Make sure your senior team provides the support your board needs. The report says that ‘We found that it’s critical for each member of the leadership team to have the capabilities to excel and earn the CEO’s full trust and support.’
3. Optimise meeting time. It’s clear that meetings both take up a disproportionate amount of CEO time, and are often less than optimal in terms of efficiency. Read our tips on increasing your board’s efficiency and making your board as effective as it can be.
For more on the ways CEOS spend their time, you can read the full article on the report here.
To learn how a board portal can help to deliver better board packs and drive more efficient meetings, you can download a copy of our whitepaper, Board portals – what’s in it for directors? The paper is free to download here.
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