Do you have a diary? Do you use it daily? If you answered yes to these questions, take a brownie point and read on. If you answered no, what I’m about to talk about could change your working life and solve a lot of your problems.
The issue here is time management and organisation. It all started with an Italian sociologist and economist called Vilfredo Pareto, who came up with the now famous Pareto principle, which says: You get 80 percent of your results from 20 percent of your time. We commonly call this the 80:20 rule.
If we extend the Pareto principle and spend 40 percent of our time doing valuable things instead of 20 percent, we will more than double our current result. I’m talking about working smarter here, not harder. Draw a distinction between effort and result at this stage. How hard you and your staff work is of little interest to me while I’m wearing my management consultant hat; it’s the result you get that’s important. If your efforts are not well conceived, you could be wasting a lot of time.
This is where your diary comes in. Most managers use their diary as an appointment book or a ‘daily to do’ list. That’s OK, but its usefulness can be extended considerably by using it for two other purposes: as a follow-up planner, and as a performance diary. I’ll explain them one at a time.
Using your diary as a follow-up planner means organising yourself to eliminate one of the most frustrating and time consuming problems a manager has to face — getting staff to listen carefully to and follow through on instructions. Have you ever asked staff to change something or to do something, and they do it for a couple of weeks and then drift back to the old way? This occurs because one of the things you have to do to get behavioural change is missing.
If you want staff to change their behaviour you have to ensure three things are built into your leadership procedure, they are: proper communication, appropriate follow-up, consistent consequences. The first part — proper communication — is easy. Give the instruction then get the staff member to repeat it back to you. The second part — appropriate follow-up — is a little more complex.
It takes six months to change a persons’ behaviour — or more accurately, it takes six months to eliminate an ingrained behaviour pattern and overlay a new behaviour over the top of it until it becomes normal. Once you have communicated an important instruction, take out your diary in front of the person concerned and make brief follow-up notes once a fortnight for the next two months, then monthly for the following four months. Tell them you will be following it up, and you expect them to supervise themselves and ensure that it is done.
When you roll up to work each day and open your diary there will be several follow-up notes you have written in the recent past. Check each of them to make sure they are still being done or transfer the follow-up note to another day. Don’t just leave it — a big part of getting behaviour change is ensuring consistent consequences, the third part of the procedure. If it is being done, praise the person; if it is not, assertively request an explanation. The main reason why people don’t react to the requests of a leader is that there are no predictable consequences attached to not doing it.
The other main use of a diary is just that — a diary. In this case though, I am not talking about a personal diary but a performance diary. This is simple — at the end of each day or the beginning of the next, discipline yourself to spending five minutes noting the positive and negative aspects of your staff that day. Evolve a shorthand code that is meaningful to you for the purpose. Be specific and concentrate on positive performance, not just the negative.
You then use this information as the basis of regular, informal performance appraisal. Once a month, sit down with each person who reports directly to you and go through the positives and negatives of their performance. The diary entries allow you to be specific — instead of throwing generalities at them (‘you’re doing a great job’), you can give them detailed information about how you have viewed their work over the last month, then set goals for the next.
If a staff member has failed to behave as they were instructed some time ago, you pick this up when you follow-up according to your diary notes, then deal with it in the next performance appraisal session (‘on the 12th May you said you wouldn’t leave the X key in the cash register any more. On the 25th of May and the 2nd of June I found the key in the register. Why is this happening after you told me you would take care of it?’). Using it this way, your diary becomes an integrated leadership and time management tool and your communication becomes far more effective.
Your staff will rapidly learn that there is a high likelihood that you will follow-up all specific instructions, and there are uncomfortable consequences to not making their words match their actions. They will learn to listen carefully to you and to manage their own performance. To be fair, what you are doing will take slightly longer at first, but in the long run will repay you many times over in time saved. The longer you practise this the greater the result. Remember the 80:20 rule. If you haven’t got a diary, go and get one right now — and get into the routine of using it.