Too much time spent on internal reviewing!
In the last two weeks alone, I have had 3 different organizations at 3 different companies tell me that they are preparing for an executive business review and therefore can’t do anything else for the next 2 – 3 weeks.
Regularly, when I talk with mid-level managers about time management challenges, one of their biggest challenges is the fact that they are required to spend so much time preparing for business reviews for executives, that they can’t get their actual work done.
The Expensive Business Review
When you ask an organization to do a business review, you might put 2 hours or half a day on your calendar a few weeks out. That’s what it’s worth to you, on your calendar.
But you need to be aware that this one request can completely paralyze your whole organization. The internal review (to impress you), becomes the urgent business priority, and virtually all work on the business itself stops for weeks to prepare.
Of course, business reviews have their place.
As an executive, especially if you are on the board, you need to satisfy yourself that the business is running properly, and that the work you have committed is getting done.
Getting (only) what you need from a business review
But you need to find a way to ask the questions, get the answers, and feel like you are in the loop of how the business is doing, without creating risk by how you ask.
It’s important to realize that way you review the business may be one of the biggest risks to actually succeeding in your business.
Don’t just ask for “A Review
When you ask for a business review, it’s like throwing a grenade into your organization. There will be many meetings where people get together to debate, “What do you think our boss wants to hear? What are the key messages? How much do we share? What do we feature?”
Once they decide, your team will spend however much time you give them between the request and the review itself, preparing — and doing little else.
This open ended request of a “business review” will give your team a lot of stress, and will not guarantee that you get the information you truly need. And you’ll likely get a lot more non-useful information than you truly need.
Steps to a good review process
Here are some steps to having a productive business review that doesn’t cripple your team to prepare for.
1. Sit down with your business team to discuss what you truly need to learn from the review. If possible, provide a template.
2. Budget the amount of time that preparing the review is worth. Let then know that you only want X number of people to spend Y amount of time preparing. Make it clear that the work is the priority, not the review.
3. Make the amount of time spent on preparing the review part of the review. Shine a spotlight on this and decide with your team what is reasonable. Put in the template a place to record how many people worked for how many hours.
4. Articulate the key control points in the business, and what the desired outcomes and measures are for those, before the review prep starts. Don’t send your team off to debate what should be included. Tell the up front.
5. Identify key risk areas you want to see the plans for. Make a list of the risks, ask for the next top two if they are not on your list and ask to see the plan to mitigate them.
6. Create a 1 page dashboard that the team needs to report on. In addition to a template that guides the preparation process, a one page dashboard can be valuable. You could say for example that any element of the business that has been green for the past two reviews and is green again does not need to be included other than in the dashboard.
Don’t invent too much new stuff
The key thought here, is that the materials you use to review the business should be ones that the business is using to run the business, not some special 100 slide presentation that was only prepared for your review, that has no value otherwise.
My guideline when I was running a $1B business software business, was that I never wanted a team to spend more than 1 week elapsed time, and no one person should spend more than 2 hours preparing for an internal review. I want to see what you are actually doing, using the same artifacts you are using to run your part of the business. Don’t create new stuff. Let’s talk about what’s really happening, not some artificial presentation designed to impress me with it’s polish.
Get over your addiction to detail
The other thing that I see becoming a huge time sink in organizations is when the executives are so addicted to detail that they insist that even the lowest level of detail be dragged up and vetted through every level of management and reviewed and inspected over and over again.
Moving too much detail up kills organizational effectiveness, is hugely expensive, and introduces more risk than it averts. Managers should be creating insights not just moving all their detail up.
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Patty Azzarello is an executive, best-selling author, speaker and CEO/Business Advisor. She became the youngest general manager at HP at the age of 33, ran a billion dollar software business at 35 and became a CEO for the first time at 38 (all without turning into a self-centered, miserable jerk)