How to manage your most valuable assets

What’s the most expensive piece of equipment you own? Your car? Your new oven? Your central-heating system?

Now let me ask you this: Is it being used at the moment? What is its utilisation? Is it used 100% of the time? 90%? 5%?

Does that worry you?

Probably not. Yet, I have often heard clients concerned when their machines are not being ‘fully utilised’.

Your lawn-mower and car

Do you expect your lawn-mower to be used all the time? No. What you do expect is that, when you get it out, it cuts the grass perfectly, collects the cuttings and you are able to finish the job quickly. You want your lawn to look good.

It’s the same with your car. You want it to work when you need to use it. But when you are not using it, it shouldn’t be a worry to you.

Managing people

But what about people? How do you manage your people? Should the approach be the same? Should you worry if your people are not working for every second when they are at work?

Proper Jobs

Just yesterday Keith, the chap who keeps our computers in tip-top form told me that he knew people who had ‘proper jobs’ but clearly spent a lot of time on Facebook during working hours. Is this a problem?

What you are paying for

I think it’s the same as machine utilisation. You need to know exactly what you want people to achieve. That’s what you are really paying for, not the number of hours they spend behind a desk or working for you in some way.

If they can achieve the results you need in three hours, why would they string out the task to take six? Here’s why. It depends on the way you manage them.

If you focus on hours, and make it clear you are paying for hours, then you will get people who make sure things take a long time, because it’s worth their while.

SMART objectives

If you focus on what you need to be achieved, which is what SMART objectives, targets and goals are all about, then you  are much more likely to get people who work out quicker and more effective ways of achieving the results.

Try it now and see the results you get.

Why being good is not good enough

And what to do about it

Here’s what a delegate told us when he introduced himself a few years ago. He had worked hard at school to get into university. He had then studied hard at his chosen topic and been awarded a first class degree. Then he went on to further studies and earned a PhD.

Clutching his hard-won qualifications in his hand he went to look for a job, but there were none in that field any more. “So I ended up working here.” He finished bitterly.

(I will point out that he contacted me a few months later to say that, as a result of what he gained from the workshop, he had found a job he enjoyed much more at twice the salary.)

Recently a young friend of mine failed to be offered a single place at university in spite of the fact she has top grades in just about everything.

We have all been wondering just how this could happen. It’s not as though she’s unpleasant in any way at all or has any obvious faults.

I was reminded of another friend whose husband is being made redundant despite excellent performance reviews. In fact his whole site, small though it is, is being closed down. The site has achieved all its targets and scored well on virtually every measure.

It’s not enough

The trouble is that working hard and being good just aren’t enough, because sometimes things entirely out of your control just happen and there’s nothing you can do about it.

You need a plan

So you need a a clear long term objective or goal and a plan to achieve it. In my first example of the delegate, it was the plan that was at fault. The individual concerned had not kept his eye on the job advertisements in his chosen field.

In the second example of the friend without a university place, there is plenty that can be done. I am pleased to report that she has already sorted out various jobs and ways of getting experience in her chosen field. She lost little time in doing this and has managed to stay motivated and cheerful. (Which makes me even more certain that the universities that rejected her made a mistake.)

The well-prepared

In the third case the husband was much better prepared. He had taken out insurance against being made redundant. He had a clear objective around his income.

I didn’t even know you could do that. He did not seem overly worried and had a plan for moving forward. He reminded me of another friend, who also took redundancy recently. She had taken out some insurance on her mortgage. For some reason, she’d decided to go for the two-year option instead of the standard one-year.

Astonishingly the mortgage broker had even tried to talk her out of this more expensive option (a nice example of proper selling) citing how reliable her employer was and how unlikely she was to be made redundant.

She stuck to her guns and now is extremely grateful she did.

Being good is no longer good enough

All the people here work hard, have achieved good results and yet, through no fault of their own, found themselves in difficult situations. It can happen to us all. It’s less likely if you work hard and achieve, but it can still happen, so don’t imagine you are immune.

Why have a plan?

Just because you are skilled and effective, don’t think you’ll be able to deal easily with a problem if it comes your way.

When you are hit with a sudden emergency it’s more difficult to plan. Your brain tends to focus on immediate survival, rather than the long-term situation so it’s easy to go in for a “knee-jerk” response. This makes it very difficult to plan effectively and keep your eye on the goal.

However, if you already have a plan worked out, you are in a much better situation. That’s what fire drills are for and why they work. It also helps if you look after your brain.

So, however good you are, check your plans and make sure you are prepared for the worst, then it probably won’t happen anyway. And if it does, you will still succeed.

Laziness or incompetence?

Is it laziness or incompetence? Why don’t people prioritise effectively?

Sometimes, yes it is both laziness and incompetence. Other times it’s because of what is going on in your brain.


When we are stressed or under pressure, your ability to think long-term is greatly reduced. You need an immediate solution or way to stop the pain. So you indulge in short term behaviour for short-term gains, but with big long-term losses.

You tend to be completely focused on yourself and forgot the needs and concerns of others. (Colleagues, customers, suppliers, friends and family.) It’s not that you deliberately ignoring them, it’s just that they and their needs simply don’t enter your head.

You forget the promises you have made to others and the plans you were supposed to be working to and just go for what’s in front of your nose at the time. This then causes all kinds of problems for your colleagues. You then blame them for not being flexible.

A tool for dealing with stressful times

Train yourself to always keep your eye on the long-term plan. Make sure you have clear long-term objectives.

If you constantly remind yourself of these and have a long-term plan, it’s much easier to stop knee-jerk responses when it gets stressful.

When it does, the first thing to do is to go back to your long-term objectives and plan. Then work out what the priorities are. To do this you have to have clear criteria for identifying them. (Usually people keep changing their minds because they don’t have clear criteria.)

Once you have agreed the priorities with your colleagues, customers and suppliers, work out a plan and then stick to it.

If there really is an emergency and you have to make a change, at least remember to apologise for the problems you have caused.

More help

For more help with prioritisation and time management get our Teleseminar recording on Time Management. It’s on special offer this week – you save £5.80.

5 Big mistakes to avoid when managing change

Have you had to implement change or been part of change recently? In a world that’s changing rapidly it’s hard to avoid change. So it’s important to get it done with the minimum of effort and cost.

There are crucial traps to avoid. They seem obvious, but if they are, why do so many people fall into them?

Here are just five:

  • Having the wrong objective
  • Not involving people early enough
  • No clear priorities
  • Bad communication
  • Not learning from past changes

The wrong objective

In a situation where you are forced to make changes it’s easy to end up with a ‘negative’ objective. This is an objective that outlines what you want to avoid, rather than what you need to achieve.

It’s also easy, when you are in a hurry, not to put enough time aside to get the objective right. If you do this, much of your effort later will be wasted and you won’t get what you really need.

Not involving people early enough

This point follows on from the last one. For some reason many senior managers don’t talk to the people who will be implementing changes till well into the process.

For those involved it leads to frustration because people know they could have found much easier ways to accomplish the goals if they had only known about them at an earlier stage.

For an organisation it leads to unnecessary extra costs and time delays.

No clear priorities

Again, this point follows on from the last one.  When you are making changes, often there are many things that need to be done, as well as the normal everyday tasks. This can lead to people behaving like headless chickens.

It also results in duplication, wasted effort and frustration. Sound familiar? Usually it’s because people have not spent enough time on planning and working out how to prioritise and get tasks completed in an efficient way.

Bad communication

Much of the so-called resistance to change is caused by the changes being communicated badly to those who are impacted by those changes.

Sometimes it would seem that senior managers have no understanding at all of the people who work for them, or at the very least, have not taken the time to think about it.  So the language they use causes suspicion, fear and opposition.

Not learning from past changes

There can’t be many organisations that have not had to implement changes in the past. So you would think that, before making the next round they might look at what has gone before and learn. The information is all there and it’s free.

Taking time to find out what worked and what didn’t may seem like a delay, but it can save time, money and effort. It can also lead to much better results.

What is your priority?

What is the priority?

So often when you ask people (perhaps even your manager) what the priority is they say, “Everything is important.”

This shows a complete lack of ability to prioritise. In some organisations it seems to get worse the further up you go. Being able to prioritise is a vital time management skill. It’s one that always comes up on our time management workshops.

But every now and then you come across an example of someone who really knows how to do it and gets fantastic results.

How to prioritise

I met a woman called Liz who was the new manager of the library at a university. It’s a tough job. Each new term hundreds of students all arrive at the library. They all want the same book. Usually the lecturers haven’t told you which book it is.

What Liz did

When she arrived, she sent round a memo to all department heads explaining that, for her first month, she would be talking to all of them to find out what they needed from the library. She finished with:  ‘Please don’t ask me to do anything else during that time.’

After her investigations, sent a memo explaining her findings. She outlined her priorities for each of the next three months. Again, she finished with her request ‘…so please don’t ask me to do anything else during that time’.

People were not happy and there were many complaints. But nothing actually got worse in the library.

Drastic improvements

A few months later people started asking me if I’d been the library recently. They could hardly prevent themselves from telling me how good it was.

However, no one seemed to link the achievements with the memos they had had.

I don’t want to belittle Liz’s achievements, but it was the kind of thing anyone could have done with a little careful planning, prioritization and discipline.

So have a go yourself and see what you can achieve.