Canadian Consulting Engineer


March 1, 2001
By Jeff Mowatt

Let's be frank. If you work for a company, then your primary goal is to make money. Period. You may have goals to serve the interests of your clients and employees, and to be a good corporate citizen,...

Let’s be frank. If you work for a company, then your primary goal is to make money. Period. You may have goals to serve the interests of your clients and employees, and to be a good corporate citizen, but your number one priority is return on investment. Profit.

By simply realigning your priorities, you can lead your firm or department in a way that builds client and staff loyalty, reduces operating costs and makes more money. You don’t have to work any harder; just smarter. To find out how, answer the following questions. Then read the accompanying suggestions.

What is normally your first task of the day?

(a) returning phone calls

(b) administrative paperwork

(c) work on strategic projects

(d) dealing with customers

(e) responding to employee requests

Your first priority of the day should be (c), working on strategic projects designed to prevent problems and increase profits. Typically however, managers put off strategic work to do other work that has a deadline. They confuse urgency with importance.

It is always easy to put off work that is strategic in nature because the deadline is usually non-existent or not urgent, and strategic work requires something many of us prefer to avoid — thinking. The problem is that if you continually put off projects designed to increase profits or reduce problems, then you end up having more crises to deal with. So you get caught in the vicious cycle of crisis management.

A lot of managers and business-owners secretly love putting out fires because it makes them feel like heroes. In fact, they live in a fool’s paradise — treating symptoms every day rather than curing the disease.

Doing strategic projects for the first one to one-and-a-half hours of your day puts you in a proactive mindset. Even though crises may spring up during the day, at least you have the comfort of knowing you’re doing something to prevent these problems from recurring. In other words, doing strategic project work gives you a sense of control and a feeling that there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

When I speak at seminars about the hour-and-a-half of uninterrupted strategic project work, I often hear a chorus of protests from the audience. People talk about the emergencies that require their attention. The truth is, unless you work in emergency services, there is almost no problem or “crisis” or client request that can’t be handled by someone else in the organization, or can’t wait a mere hour and a half for your personal attention. Realistically, you’ll accomplish more in that hour-and-a-half of strategic project work than the other seven hours of crisis management combined.

Of your major project

work, which do you typically work on first?

(a) the project with the most pressing deadline

(b) the one that’s the easiest to do quickly

(c) the one that will generate the most profits over the long term

Obviously, you should work on (c), the project that will generate the most profits over the long term. That’s what you’re in business for. Ironically, most managers don’t do it. They react to deadlines, submitting to the tyranny of the urgent. It’s fine to work on projects with urgent deadlines, but at least spend the first hour on the long-term profit project, then work on the other projects with the urgent deadlines.

Administrative activities are some of a manager’s most important tasks

(a) true?

(b) false?

Answer: (b) false. Adminis-trivia is day-to-day organizing. It’s the tedious, mindless reporting and paperwork that simply has to be done. And it’s the lowest form of work for any manager. It should be automated, delegated or outsourced. If you are doing this work yourself, you are a clerk — not a leader.

The problem is that adminis-trivia is seductive because it’s easy to do and it usually has a deadline. Ditto for dealing with customer requests that should be handled by your employees. They are paths of least resistance.

Long-term strategic project work, on the other hand, requires concentration, vision, and rarely has an immediate deadline. A classic example is developing an ongoing staff-training program.

Calgary based, Jeff Mowatt ( speaks at conventions and for corporations on “The Art of Client Service: Influence with Ease.”


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