In the 1960s, while consulting for a British factory, Elliott Jaques had a controversial insight: Employees at different levels of the company had different time horizons.
Line workers focused on tasks that could be completed in a single shift; managers devoted their energies to tasks requiring six months or more to complete; Senior leaders and the CEO were pursuing goals over the span of several years.
Jacques’ Time Span of Discretion
Jaques said that just as humans differ in intelligence, we differ in our ability to handle timespans.
Each of us has a time horizon we are comfortable with, what Jaques called our “Time span of discretion”. This term defines the timespan of the longest task this individual can successfully undertake.
Organisations recognise this: workers are paid hourly, managers annually, and senior executives compensated with stock options.
The following chart shows the type of work found at each Time Horizon:
Description of Capability
Construct and pursue world wide strategic plans in the largest of the world’s corporations.
Super Corporation CEO
Construct and pursue world wide strategic plans. Place businesses in the world.
Lead the accumulated impact of multiple business units.
Optimize the function of a single business unit or corporate support staff.
Business Unit President
Manage multiple, interdependent serial projects. Balance resources among a number of departments.
Plan and carry out sequential projects while considering contingencies and alternatives.
Regional Manager or
Manager of Managers
Accumulate bits of information to diagnose and anticipate problems. Proactivity appears. Trends are noticed.
First Line Manager Supervisor
Follow predefined procedures. When an obstacle is encountered, seek help. No anticipation of problems is expected.
Shop Floor Operator
The Challenge: 100 Year Problems in a 4 Year System
Our current leadership promotional systems require you first to be successful at annual or 4 year timespans before you can move into the positions that allow you to set 50 or 100 year strategy. Politicians have 4 years to deliver an impact (and 12 months to run a campaign). Divisional managers have 1-3 years to deliver an impact if they are to be considered for 20-50 year strategic decision roles.
Climate change and Peace between warring nations are so difficult to resolve because we have a political system that elects 4 year thinkers when we really need 20 to 50 year thinkers in office.
PS What’s your time horizon? Let me know in the comments below 😉
I know plenty of financial advisors who would love to spend a few hours reviewing my investments, cash position, investment goals and helping me make a realistic plan.
I know how much I spent on food, travel, housing, school in the last month, year and if I did the sums I could calculate a rough lifetime spend.
You can always earn more money.
Organisations spend small fortunes developing capital expenditure budgets and operational budgets and auditing the cash of the business.
My time, in contrast, goes un-managed. Most organisations have no systematic procedure to eliminate time wasters. They place clear objectives for the use of every dollar, but no barriers on the expenditure of another hour.
My first girlfriend used to tell me that time is like money but with one major difference – at the end of every day, everything you have left unspent is taken away from you. Imagine if you started every day with €240 and you knew that at midnight, any left unspent will be taken away.
Imagine Managing Time Like Companies Budget Capital
Imagine if every month, instead of receiving a bank statement, I received a time-statement: a detailed breakdown of where my hours have been put, how many were invested and how many just dripped through the cracks.
Would it change how I spend my time? Would it reduce facebook and increase playing with my daughter? Would it reduce email and increase face-to-face meetings? How would the measurement change me?
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