No time to think?

file2561344746867I have been told that, today, asset managers and other middle to senior management decision-makers, are becoming a victim of the drive for ‘efficiency’: resources are being reduced, workloads increased. So much so, that they have ‘no time to think’.  If this is true there are some very serious consequences.

I recall a client of mine who wanted my help in developing strategic policy and planning for her more than two billion dollars of education assets: schools and colleges. Her day was back-to-back meetings, so much so that we had to get together for policy discussions over coffee at 7 am or else after her day eased off at 7 pm. I asked her, with such a hectic schedule, when did she ever get time to think. She smiled wryly, shrugged and said “When I get home!”  I was concerned for this bright young woman but also for her staff who really needed the strategic direction that she should have had the time to give them. Then my concern moved to the students, who were being shortchanged by not having infrastructure decisions thoughtfully coping with changing needs, and to their parents and their future employers. The whole community misses out when infrastructure decision-makers do not have time to think.

And the individual misses out too.  With increasing automation, jobs that do not require thinking are going to be taken over by robots.  Do we really want infrastructure decisions made by computer algorithms, by robots?

Questions today

Is it true that many decision-makers believe they have ‘no time to think’?

Is this something we need to address, and if so, how could we do it?


4 Thoughts on “No time to think?

  1. John Falade on August 22, 2016 at 12:16 pm said:

    The thinking process is a critical part of the work process that is often less emphasised nowadays. More attention is paid to demonstrating modelling, software, technique or process knowledge. Countless hours spent collating data, building models, populating software and analysing results because that’s the ‘efficient way’, the ‘smart way’. The end result being a product that screams ‘I know Excel/SAP/RBI/RCM’ etc. Good as this may be, the critical question is ‘does the solution from these approaches address the problem in the context of stakeholders objectives?’. This can be best known if more conversations are had, the problem better understood, the objective more clearly defined and a solution approach better tailored via a thinking process that considers stakeholder objectives.
    I typically spend the first days on any project going through this thinking process with my team before we start to knuckle down to the hard work. This helps us focus more on finding the most appropriate solution to the given context of the problem. The models, processes etc help narrow the decision band but rarely do they give the perfect solution. Human factors such as risk appetite, political considerations and personal interest all come into play at one time or the other.
    The automaton approach has its place, but its not the solution. It cant replace, it can only support the thinking process.

  2. I’m sure you’re right: many decision-makers believe they have no time to think… yes, we need to address this, but the solution isn’t just freeing up their diaries!

    We need to THINK DIFFERENTLY. A story-based framework for public infrastructure – and service – planning helps everyone (community, politicians, staff) to get on the same page, facilitating an ongoing conversation about ‘where we are, where we want to be and how we’ll get there’ that is relevant at any level in an organisation and looks far beyond the political cycle. This addresses two key issues in the article: clearer strategic direction for staff and adaptation to changing needs of students (not least as it facilitates engagement).

    What does this look like? I’ve been working on a tool to record and refine key points in the story (the detail – that we often get lost in – sits behind it). Paper out soon!

  3. Patrick Whelan on September 5, 2016 at 5:39 pm said:

    It could be put a different way: “Why can’t managers have time to manage?” Is it the fault of the manager who can’t organize resources to give them the time, or a more systematic erosion of managers’ responsibility, or simply that spruikers get subordinate jobs over doers?

    In these days of revived economic rationalism, most managers have to do a large amount of what would have been done by their staff, There simply aren’t enough staff, so they’re stuck.

    The other possibility is the senior manager who relies so heavily on the manager that the manager rarely sees his or her team, This is an insidious erosion of power, demonstrating to me that the senior manager has been over-promoted. Of course, the manger may be a spruiker rather than a doer, only too happy to be diverted into lots of different areas unrelated to their job. They are good talkers so in no time they get to be on more and more unrelated working parties, and suddenly they have no time to manage, other than after hours.

    Is the senior manager a spruiker or a doer? Is the manager a spruiker or a doer? I have seen far too many people chosen for jobs based on a great interview, but with very little demonstrated ability to do the job, This is at all levels, and could easily be prevalent in the manager’s staff. The whole selection process for jobs is now geared towards the spruiker.

    I have worked in infrastructure most of my working life. The above observations are from my experience as a doer. The manager and senior manager are the decision makers on infrastructure. Each must rely on getting information on decisions from below, How good will those decisions be if the reliance is on spruikers?

    • Interesting observations, Patrick. However, we can’t do anything about politics – YET! But politicians are decision TAKERS. Our focus in Talking Infrastructure is not with the politicians but with the decision MAKERS, those who do the analysis and put forward recommendations. Blaming politics or politicians will not only not get us anywhere, it lets us off the hook. We are, in effect, saying ‘it’s their fault, i can’t do anything’. See our value statement where we aim to be positive and helpful, considered, considerate, and collaborative. But especially positive and helpful. Question for all, is how we can take these observations of Patrick’s and turn them into something that gives positive and helpful guidance, or raises positive and helpful ideas, for decision MAKERS.

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