Time is the great equalizer – the ultimate level playing field – and yet it holds such different meanings for each of us: the time it takes to get to work; the time between making contact with a customer and that customer buying (or not); the turnaround time to quote; the cycle time to produce; the lead time to deliver; the time it takes to get paid.
Time impacts us all, and not just at work. The time we spend with family; the time we are on vacation; the time our children are in school … it goes on and on and on!
The paradox is that as much as time impacts each of us, we can’t impact time. Yes, we all marvel at how much – or little – is accomplished in a given amount of time. And sometimes our actions can make it appear like time is racing by – or standing endlessly still. Time marches on, and all too often all we seem to be able to do is watch it or chase it.
Yet while we bemoan the passing of time, we ignore it when seeking measurements that level the playing field with our competitors.
In business everyone claims to want a level playing field. (In truth, I think everyone would like a playing field that tilts in their favor, but as often as not the field appears to be tilted against us.) Equally, most in business look for objective methods by which to measure performance. The search is often for measures that accentuate certain achievements and camouflage other, less impressive results, but either way, business leaders want to show how they compare on the global stage, which they want as level as possible, if for no other reason than to prevent their competition a favorable edge.
Time is a measurement, and time is the ultimate playing field leveler. We all are alike when measured by time. Each person has the same number of minutes in an hour and hours in a day. Yes, some time zones may be larger than others, and depending on where you live, some may have more or less daylight, but every minute, hour and day is the same for each of us. The great differentiator is how we choose to spend that time. More to the point, the greater differentiator is what each of us is able to accomplish with the time we have!
While time is an objective measurement tool, it is also a most precious and powerful resource. Time, properly used, can enable an also-ran to become the leader. Time, when pooled as best as a company team or collaborative group can do, can be harnessed to exponentially increase what could otherwise be accomplished by each individual. Time, properly used, can be a game-changer!
Time is also the scapegoat for failure. “If I only had more time” or “I wasn’t given enough time” are comments heard day-in and -out when an effort fails or an order is lost. Time is to blame when a business founders because of lack of orders. Time is the culprit when expenses exceed revenue and the doors are closed. Time is the villain when a hot new idea shows up a day late, a dollar short and well over budget.
If time is so powerful, why do many of us seem to ignore it? In some cases, it’s environmental. Observing our elected leaders in government showing no regard for doing anything in a timely matter does not help. Watching entertainment media, where Hollywood warps time to make us believe there is always an ample amount to do the amazing, does not help.
All over the world in a variety of industries, including ours, are impressive examples of how time is utilized as a strategic tool by small and large companies to accomplish great things. In each case, the individuals, collectively and individually, are passionate about what they are doing and more important, about the need to take full advantage of every second to get things done quickly. Their passion is fueled in many ways. For some it is simple pride in converting ideas into reality. Elsewhere it’s fueled by people who have a yearning for advancement and want to get ahead – from the fields to the factories to the executive suite. And some of the passion is fueled by managers – leaders, really – who understand that they have the same amount of time as their competitors and are determined to leverage it to their advantage, lest their competitors use it against them.
As powerful and helpful as time is, as a measurement tool or to level the playing field, like all powerful things, it needs to be managed. Indeed, time needs to be managed, or time will manage you!
Consider the roller coaster our industry has endured over the past decades, and all the companies that have come and gone. Some businesses are still around and thriving; some are around but shadows of their former selves, and even more are no longer among us. The only differentiator is time; specifically, how those companies managed their time or were managed by time. I believe that the highly successful companies managed their time well and had the discipline to take full advantage of every minute of every employee so to accomplish success.
How well are you doing? How well are we as an industry doing? It’s all about time: the time you manage and the time that manages you. As we individually and collectively look for ways to improve, maybe we should look at better utilizing that low lying, albeit powerful resource called time!
Peter Bigelow is president and CEO of IMI (imipcb.com); firstname.lastname@example.org. His column appears monthly.