Today’s work environment is one where customers, partners, peers and staff expect instant gratification. Perception is reality and if you can’t respond in a timely fashion, or your organisation provides less that expected levels of customer service, there is always a competitor standing by to eat your lunch.
I’ve always pitched work-life balance as being critical. But there are times when I wonder if it’s possible! The Laptop/PDA/Phone/Blackberry is the new boyfriend/ girlfriend/ spouse/ wife/ husband. You spend more time with your electronic communication devices than you do with your loved ones. We can be found on planes, in offices, hotels, café’s, or restaurants more often than in our own homes. More importantly, we also have our family and friends also vying for and requiring precious time. So how do we retain balance?
If you are looking at a solution to these time in memoriam issues, it really comes down to four tried and trusted fundamental management traits:
- Better Time Management
- Never accept the status quo
- Hire the best people
Speed is the key. If you arrive at the market first, and have a competitive advantage, your goal is to steal as much ground, as fast as possible, with both customers and partners. And that means you have to accept the fact that you will sleep less (for a while at least).
Seriously, get up earlier or go to bed later. As you get older, or have young children, you sleep less anyway right? Sleep is for the competition and you can sleep when you are dead! But make sure some of that extra time awake is spent playing with your kids or having dinner with your family, not just doing e-mail.
In order to maintain and keep up the velocity, you need to be organised. Organised in your responses to everyone around you, organised with your expenses – personal and work-related, organised with your e-mail and calendar, tasks & to-do lists. The paper diary is dead!
Prioritise – choose the top 3 frogs everyday – boil them, get them done, move down through your tasks and interruptions and hope and make sure at the end of the week, you are further ahead than the start! Pareto’s Principle states that 80% of your business will come from 20% of your customers and partners. Focus on the 20%. You will find that very little will slip through the cracks
Action the simple items in e-mail immediately and use Follow-up Flags (Red Flags) for items that require your attention, medium to long-term. You will find that many of these items end up getting dealt with in day to day business anyway and the removal of these red flags or crossing off your to-do list items will provide you with great satisfaction and sense of achievement.
Don’t forget your family! The other night I had a meeting scheduled at 6pm and then realised that I had promised to go Trick or Treating that same evening with my two boys, which is a really fun activity the boys love (lots of sweets!) and allows you to get to know your neighbours. This was my priority. Easily solved – I moved the meeting to the following day. Sounds simple, but how often do sales people actually assign a priority to their personal life? For me it’s a must if I want to accomplish both work and life balance.
Through all this, retaining a great reputation and a good name is fundamental to your longevity and success in any industry. Without Integrity, you can run as fast as you want, but you will end up running on your own. Remember a job has a finite time associated with it; your name is for life! Sometimes you need to make tough decisions about short-term monetary gain vs what is right in the long term.
How do you know that you are maintaining integrity? Listen and you will hear. People tell you or they tell others!! If the feedback is not good – it’s clear you need to change. Partners and customers will tell you more about your business and what should be a priority than you’ll ever learn at an internal strategic planning session. So find out what they think – run a regular advisory council and always organise regular (quarterly) reviews.
Question the status quo
Look for constant improvement. Don’t accept ‘We’ve always done it this way’ as a valid answer. Always challenge the existing situation and you will achieve significant improvements. The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over & over again & expecting a different result. Yet I have seen insanity displayed in business often over my career. Let people know they are insane – they will appreciate it!! Let me explain by example.
Most of my success with partners to date has been the ability to look them in the eye and provide verbal electric shock therapy to jolt them out of their complacency. If you pitch the vision once or twice and they are not getting it, let them know they are missing the boat. Give them a hard time by providing them examples of businesses that are getting it. Do it for their own good!! It may appear to come across as arrogance but it really is being ‘cruel to be kind’.
Hire the best people
The final key to maintaining balance is to surround yourself with people you can trust and rely on. Ultimately no matter how many systems and processes we have, the world revolves around people. If you hire and retain the best, you will provide yourself a much better chance of work-life balance.
Make the interview process rigorous and always provide feedback to all candidates. Hire people that you can mentor but also people that you can learn from. Look for people that have skills that compliment yours or cover areas of expertise that are not your strength but very important to your organisation. And if someone is struggling, don’t just ignore them and hope for the best. Either manage them in or manage them out. You’re not doing yourself, your team or that individual any favours by turning a blind eye. Little to say, hiring and retaining the best people is a long discussion – just make sure you do this right!!
So ultimately maintaining work-life balance is all about drawing a line in the sand and not letting things get out of control. If you need a holiday, take it. The world isn’t going to stop, but make sure you have managed your calendar effectively, you have prioritised the important items and you leave your good reputation un-tarnished by dealing with all the major issues before you head off. Set yourself up with a reliable network of people or systems that will support you while away.
Most importantly of all, find time for your family & friends. You don’t want to suffer from – as one of my account managers who is a working mother calls it – GMS or GFS (Guilty Mothers/Fathers Syndrome).
David Blackman is the Director of the ANZ Partner Organisation for VMware. He can be contacted on