Have you noticed that there can be huge differences in how well an organization serves its clients, depending on the manager?  Under one manager, an organization might deliver a fairly constant value for years. Then a new manager comes in and takes the very same people to a dramatically higher level of service to our community. Why the huge difference?

Manager Expectation: One reason may be a manager’s attitude or expectations. Some managers view their role as a custodial job, to maintain the organization’s capability to reliably deliver the traditional services as always, month after month. This perspective might be their own expectation, or the expectations of the organization in which they work. In my 34 years with Procter and Gamble, I had 11 different managerial assignments. P&G developed its managers by giving them a variety of assignments, and tested them by comparing results in each assignment with other managers that held those positions.

In only one of my assignments did my manager expect me to just perform a custodial role. In 90% of my assignments, I was also expected to build the business and develop my people into better managers. This organizational attitude towards continually building capacity might be one of the reasons why P&G was a growth company when I joined them in 1962, and may be why it is still growing today.

Where Do You Spend Your Time? As an Executive Coach to nonprofit managers, one of the discussions that I frequently find to be helpful to my clients is how much time are they spending on internal verses external communications. Internal communications consists of time spent with their employees, getting to know them, how they do their job, responding to their questions and concerns, making sure that everything is running as smoothly and as efficiently as possible for the business and the people in it.  It also includes time spent communicating with their bosses, reading and writing internal reports, and responding to internal phone calls, E-mails and people that walk into their office. Some of my clients were spending virtually all their time on these internal activities. It is what managers do to insure that everything runs smoothly.

On the other hand, working with people inside your organization is not a very good way of finding out what your organization must do differently in order to produce more value. People outside your organization that you are trying serve, current and prospective donors, volunteers, board members, suppliers and partners are in possession of the knowledge of what you can do to increase the value of your nonprofit to them. Taking time to seek out this information, and undertaking projects to act on this knowledge is the key to building your business with your clients, donors, volunteers, suppliers and partners.

The Right Balance: Do you want a smooth running organization or one with a very healthy growth rate? What is the right balance between spending time internally to keep your organization running smoothly, verses external communications and externally driven improvement efforts to enable your nonprofit to deliver services that are more highly valued by the community you want to serve?  Each manager needs to find a balance that is right for them.

Begin Your Journey: To begin the journey, I typically suggest that interested clients keep track of the time they spend on internal communications verses external communications (meetings, meeting prep, mail, Email, phone, etc.) and how much time they have left for projects. If they have trouble getting enough quality time to do much project work, I ask them to also keep track of interruptions to their work, and where it comes from. Most of my clients would like to spend more time on external communications and do more projects to deliver more value, but have trouble finding the time to do much of that. Typical time traps include:

Interruptions: Some of my clients feel that they spend most of their day going from one interruption to the next. My personal solution is to process my mail, Email and phone calls in time slots of my choosing; first thing in the morning, first thing after lunch, and before I leave the office at night. I let the messages queue up if they arrive in other time slots.

Internal Requests for Information: Some managers leave their PC connected to their E-mail server, and every time a message arrives, they instantly respond to the E-mail. The faster you respond, and the more complete your response, the more E-mails you will get requesting more information. The same is true for requests received by phone or in meetings. Don’t try to be everyone’s best source of information. To minimize this time trap, only respond to requests that require a response, and make the response as brief and delayed as acceptable.

Office Drop-ins: If one of my employees interrupted me by walking into my office, I would work with them on the issue they brought to me. But if I thought they should have foreseen this issue and discussed it at their last weekly meeting with me, or could have waited until their next weekly meeting, I would also coach them on how they could have done a better job of planning their work week. As a result, my employees quickly learned how to plan ahead so that they could function effectively with only one business contact per week with me, which made them better planners and managers, and freed me from one major source of interruptions.

Internal Meetings: In my coaching practice, if a client feels they are spending too much time in internal meetings, I ask clients about the consequences (or lack thereof) of only attending half or none of the internal meetings, and scheduling some external meetings in those time slots. I learned early in my career not to do this to my boss, but most other internal meetings contribute little to the business or my effectiveness, and have almost no consequences of me not personally attending. I used my lunch hour as my primary method of staying in touch with key people and finding out what was really going on in the organization.

The Bottom Line: I think a manager with five direct reports should be able to maintain a smooth running organization with 60% of their effort focused internally, leaving them with 40% of their time to spend on external communications and projects that enable their organization to deliver more value.