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A Matter of Time

Jan 1, 2003

by Elaine Davidson

Time is money. To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose. There are enough hours in the day. This tried and true advice underscored what CEOs of Alberta’s Fast 30 told Alberta Venture , when we asked them what leadership functions they spend the majority of their time pursuing.

For many of the 30, determining just what that their time focus should be in order to fast-track their companies has taken years and some trial and error. But by learning from our fast companies’ CEOs and time management experts it’s possible to shave off some of that time and even take a company out of the doldrums and onto the growth path.

By changing time priorities, one Fast 30 CEO changed the future of his company: “I turned my company around in the ’90s by quitting my job as a manager and becoming a leader,” says The Focus Corporation Ltd. (#14) CEO John Holmlund. “I used to spend my time managing but then hired people to do this so as CEO I could really lead the business. I became more involved in the business community and the company started to grow exponentially.”

All the CEOs interviewed agreed with Holmlund that managing their time was crucial to the growth and success of their companies – time is money. The CEOs also say that the formula for setting time priorities changes as a company grows – to everything there is a season. “My advice is that time management will evolve with your company’s stage of development,” says Octane Energy Services Ltd. (#16) CEO Myron Tetreault. “In an earlier stage of development you focus on building your team, on networking and on the business plan to give you a good road map. You need to get the right people on board from the beginning and to have a clear vision.”

Without exception, the Fast 30 leaders live and breathe their company vision. They spend most of their time focused on activities that directly move that strategy forward. All those interviewed said that they were able to focus on those strategic priorities because they had recruited, trained and nurtured strong teams – there are enough hours in the day.

Management consultant Michele Austad of Austad Performance Coaching in Calgary says these successful CEOs understand the difference between scheduling and prioritizing. She says scheduling often involves dealing with one urgent matter after another. “You can get really caught up in that. Prioritizing is about dealing with the important things that will move your business forward. It’s about focusing your efforts where you will see the most results.”

Although the CEOs’ priorities were varied – generating new sales leads, recruiting new employees, research and development, managing existing staff, investigating technology for the business, conducting market research, working on the business plan, financial management, networking, and investigating new lines of business – themes emerged.

Management consultant Bruce Green of Calgary, a partner in Canadian Career Partners says, “What struck me was the common theme that many of the CEOs had come through the time when they had to do it all and are now at a stage where they can focus on their strengths and on moving their vision ahead. What they spend their time on is very dependent, too, on where the company is in the growth cycle.

“The real key is being clear on what your vision is, communicating that to everyone and making decisions based on that vision,” Green says. “Basically it’s answering the questions of what business we are in and why are we in it. To succeed you have to be clear on your value proposition and focus on the key leverage points.”

A Selling Proposition

For a number of the Fast 30 CEOs, spending the majority of their time generating sales leads is what is propelling them forward. “I spend 60% of my time on new sales and on growth opportunities,” says WellPoint Systems Inc. (#8) president Glen Murphy. “We are a public company and being recognized for growth and profitability is essential, especially on the (TSX) Venture Exchange where we are listed,” he says of the oil and gas software company.

Murphy’s days are spent meeting face to face with senior decision-makers, “selling our vision, future and direction and learning about their vision and direction. This is not a shotgun approach. Thorough research is conducted before I go over to meet with these companies. You try to figure out their problems so you can go in with an idea of how you can help to solve them. Doing a good job of getting to know your customer is invaluable.”

His advice: “Spend time getting to the decision-maker. You want to start there. I’ve made the mistake of going to the wrong person and this can make a six-month sales cycle into a year-long one.”

Murphy says that he’s happy to be spending his days focused on his strengths – generating new business and focusing on growth. Others in his company manage people and the bottom line.

The Business Plan

Other leaders of the Fast 30 said they spend the majority of their time working on fine-tuning their vision in the form of their business plan including BOWEN – Your HR Connection (#15) CEO Shannon Bowen-Smed. “By business plan I mean our organizational structure and looking at growth opportunities.

“It used to be that we would prepare five- and 10-year plans for the company. Now it’s a 12-month plan that is constantly evolving.” Bowen-Smed, who heads up the full-service staffing and Calgary career resource agency, says it’s the “unbelievable fast pace of the industry, the increased use of technology and the increasingly sophisticated demands of our clients that keeps my focus on our company’s plan. It’s the difference between surviving and thriving.”

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