What's Your Perspective?

What's Your Perspective?

What is an executive perspective? How does it differ from the perspective of managers or individual contributors? Are you spending your time on the right things?

How we behave depends on our perspective. If we have the perspective that our bodies have always been healthy, we may readily decide there is really nothing we need to change. We eat, drink and make merry like we always have done. We may be surprised when physical ailments proliferate as we reach our senior years. If we see our bodies as subject to deterioration over time we may invest the time to slow that decline through diet, exercise, and other healthy habits. Our later years may be healthier and more active.

Executive leaders have a similar situation. There are significant long-term questions affecting the sustained viability of an organization that need be addressed. What does success look like in three to five years? What do we think our market space will look like in five years? Where will we be doing business? What new or emerging ways might our customers needs be met? What talent will we need in order to compete in the future? How does our technology need to change to realize our goals?

The longer-term questions can often be set aside by the eat, drink and be merry questions of how do I get the month to come in? How are we going to get this budget finished? Should I edit slide forty-seven of the presentation again?

So what would stop executives from taking the perspective that gives them insight into the questions above? Perhaps looking at a simplified model of various perspectives in an organization will help. As a reminder, all models are wrong – some are useful.

Executives can see their time allocation through two axes. The vertical axis represents how an individual is spending their time. The spectrum of work goes from individual tasks to managing resources to accomplish tasks to selecting the work to be done through defining the outcomes to determining the long-term goals.

At the basic level is the individual contributor. The focus of individual contributors is on completing tasks. Generally, the individual contributor role has the advantage of relatively rapid feedback on whether the task was done right or not. Granted, some tasks are more complex than others and tasks often involve collaboration. 

At the next level is the resource manager. The focus of resource managers is on allocating resources in a way that work gets done. Managers will often leverage disciplines such as project management to apply resources efficiently. Resource managers may have to wait longer to see if their deliverables are realized. As an example, a project manager may see many tasks completed before seeing the project completion criteria met.

The next level is the role of selecting the work to be done. This role often involves managing a portfolio of work. Some work may produce target outcomes and some may not. The selection role requires the portfolio to be capable of reaching the desired outcomes even if a few work selections do not pan out. In other words, there may need to be more work than the theoretic minimum required and/or some work must over-deliver on outcomes.

The next level marks the beginning of the executive perspective. These individuals are charged with setting long-term goals and then putting in place the capabilities to meet those goals. The execution going on in the levels below them is the work of realizing the vision established through these senior leaders. 

The work of senior executives may not be realized until years later. These senior executive decisions have the most significant ongoing impact on an organization. Because they deal with future state, the decisions are often made without the richness of detail available to the individuals with shorter decision horizons. 

Try this exercise. Next to each of the types of decisions in the model above, put the percent of time you spend on each kind of decision. If you spend 50% of your time picking projects then put 50% next to “selecting work." Now to it put the amount of time you should be spending there. Is there a difference?

Because executive work may seem less certain and include more ambiguity executives may be tempted to fall back into managing portfolios of existing work or even managing resources. This is like executive junk food, it leaves you feeling like you sunk your teeth into something but in the end is not healthy. 

Are you spending your time working on the right things? Did you pick and develop the right people to handle the execution of executive plans? Do you have the right perspective? 

Joe Thompson

© 2016 Differentiating Strategies, LLC