Time is a precious commodity

Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked at another media company that strongly believed that annual employee performance reviews were the best way to evaluate and get the most out of its employees.

Of course, in reality, it was an annual nightmare that was dreaded by employees and supervisors alike. The front-end managers hated having to take the time to make it look to the higher executives that they were taking the task seriously, so they filed detailed, nitpicky reports about their subordinates. The employees were stressed out and paranoid. The whole routine created divided ranks in the newsroom. Most importantly, it diverted time and energy away from the company’s core missions.

Reflecting back, I recently asked a top executive with that company if they still provide annual performance reviews.

“No. That kind of died with the digital age. We all live in real-time now,” he said.

Indeed. In this fast-paced, highly competitive era, in which business is conducted – and won or lost – in a heartbeat, the notion of saving up evaluations to spring on employees once a year is futile. And foolish. If managers are not engaged with their team and providing instant, ongoing evaluations and feedback in real-time every day, they cannot be effective leaders.

Consultant Edwin Brown, president and founder of Los Angeles-based Cohen Brown Management Group, says the concept of the annual performance review is one management technique that time has passed by.

Brown is the author of a fascinating new book titled, “The Time Bandit Solution: Recovering Stolen Time You Never Knew You Had.” According to Brown, interruptions cost U.S. companies $588 billion a year.

“Why create an atmosphere that deliberately exposes people to being distracted from their work?” Brown answered in an email about his new book. “I also wholeheartedly agree with your thoughts about not making employees focus on things that are not their ‘Critical Few.’ Every one of us has what I call our ‘Critical Few’ – those activities that left undone would threaten our job, health, relationships with loved ones and things of that high order. By definition, there are not too many of them. But there are a ton of activities that constantly intervene if we let them – those are our ‘Minor Many’ – the lesser things that could wait, or be delegated, or be batched up together to be done more efficiently. I would definitely include in the ‘Minor Many’ those compliant types of activities that various groups within an organization can demand of employees. Filling out forms, reporting detailed metrics, status reports, satisfaction surveys, engagement surveys – and all those evaluations…Look, an organization of any size inevitably takes on some bureaucracy, but it’s the job of management to protect one of the company’s most valuable assets – the time and attention of their employees. Instead, it often appears, time gets treated like a fungible commodity.”

Too often, companies get bogged down in an “interruption culture,” Brown said. If such interruptions were minimized, it would be like doubling a company’s workforce, without paying a nickel more for payroll, training or benefits, he said.

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