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Your Staff's Time is as Valuable as the Customer's

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Over the past couple of years, the seemingly dull topic of time management has become one that senior managers are showing increased interest in discussing with their teams.  I suspect this has as least something to do with the fact that we are asking smaller and smaller branch teams to accomplish more with less.

During years of working with scores of banks and reviewing reams of training, I can recall few instances of "time management" being prominently mentioned at all. Yet, I'd argue that folks who fall into sloppy time management behaviors will never be as productive as they can be.

Yes, it can be taken to an extreme. People who are too consumed about where they have to be or what they have to do next are often not paying enough attention to who they are actually with now and what they are currently doing.

But it's far more common to see folks allowing bits and pieces of their days to be taken away from them, only to run out of time to do all that they hoped to do that day (or week, or month). It adds up.

They are like the football team with its options limited at the end of the game because it "managed the clock" poorly. They're less flexible, their actions are rushed, and they're more prone to mistakes.

I'm not suggesting that the answer is to frantically move from task to task each day. Getting more productive with our time is more often accomplished by clearing away unproductive time killers and prioritizing tasks than in speeding up the pace of everything that we do.

If we are reasonably sure that there will not be enough time in any given period to accomplish everything on our "to do" list, failing to prioritize the tasks we'll tackle first practically guarantees less-than-optimal productivity for that day (or week, or month.)

When discussing customer service improvements with branch teams, I usually find that managers and front line folks readily acknowledge and accept the importance of respecting customers' time.  I then ask them why we would be any less respectful of their own time — or their managers', peers' and employees’ time.

I often mention my favorite example. I'm befuddled by the 9:00 AM meeting that is really a 9:10 or 9:15 meeting. Sure, it's clear in all communications when the start time is. But folks have learned that this is more wishful thinking than anything else.

In at least 50% of the meetings I am asked to speak, someone will come up to me and (usually sheepishly) ask if we can start just a little later than scheduled to give folks just a little more time to arrive. Being the "hired help," I always just smile and say, "It's your meeting and your call."

On more occasions than I can recall, meeting organizers have smiled and shared some version of, "We always have trouble getting started on time."

What happens is that folks who were conscientious enough to make the adjustments they had to make to their days to be on time feel a little disrespected. Other's time is more important, or the meeting would start as advertised.  And when late attendees stroll in with coffee in their hands, the message is cemented.

While I feel for and side with the folks who are on time, I can't really blame the late arrivers all that much.  They're often veteran employees who have learned from experience that their organization is willing to give up 3 to 6 percent of that day waiting for late arrivers to begin a meeting. It adds up.

When managers express concern about employees feeling micro-managed about their time, I smile and say, "Well, that's easy. Don't micro-manage." I simply suggest that we stress to folks that their talents and desire to succeed may be unlimited. But their time is not.

Employees don't need (and, in fact, resent) being told what to do with each minute of their day. But regularly reminding them, in word and action, that their time is a valuable asset improves the chances that they (and you) will get the most out of it.

And for folks in management positions in this trying period, the time to lead by example is now.

Dave Martin is an executive vice president and chief training consultant at NCBS, a SunTrust Banks Inc. subsidiary that offers consulting, training, design and construction services for retail banking programs. He can be reached at Dave.Martin@ncbs.com 

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