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How should you spend your valuable time to be a successful CEO?

Are you bogged down in the relentless grind of running your business?  Feeling there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done?  Wondering how any CEO gets time to look at the bigger picture?  Let alone plan for the future? You’re not alone.

We see this in the vast majority of CEOs that we coach.  Only the other day, I was speaking to a CEO who told me he didn’t have time to look after his health. That’s bad! It should never get that far. We analysed his diary, looking at where he spent his time. It didn’t take long to see that he was spending a mere 20% of his time on things that only he could do.  The rest of it could be managed by someone else.

Time management is an art.  Like many things, it takes focus and discipline.  But it’s vital to stop you from becoming the bottleneck in your business.  You owe it to your company to get a grip.  If you worked fewer hours in the business, it would likely grow faster.

Predicting the stages of growth

Knowledge is power.  You can start planning if you understand your company’s current growth stage.  Companies hit transitions or inflexion points as their staff numbers increase. Up to around 30 people, you’ll likely be doing two jobs – that of CEO and a functional role (depending on your background).  At about 100 staff, you must ensure your only job is to be CEO. 

I talked to someone last week with 250 staff, and the CEO was still Head of Sales.  No wonder he was overwhelmed! We use a ‘Functional Accountability Chart’ tool to capture the organisation’s essential functions and who’s accountable for each.  We want one person in each seat.  This goes for the CEO in particular.  Their job is to be CEO. Nothing more.

Formulating strategy

Strategy is next year’s profit.  So how much time are you giving to it?  Some of our fastest-growing clients are projecting that a year from now, at least 30% of their revenue will come from a product or service that doesn’t currently exist.  If you want to double your company in the next three years, growth needs to come from somewhere. 

    It’s important to give yourself time to ‘Wonder’, ‘Invent’ and ‘Discern’ (using Working Genius terminology).  This thinking time will help you see the things that make sense in the future.  And if strategic thinking isn’t your strongest attribute, you need to create time internally for some kind of strategy group.  They will aim to talk to customers, spend time in the industry and work on next year’s strategy. We discussed this in this blog.


    One of the things that only a CEO can do is be Head of Innovation.  This goes hand in hand with a focus on strategy.  Even if you’re not doing the innovating yourself, you can control the flow of resources, so that time and money are ring-fenced and adequately allocated.

    Keep the rest of the organisation at arm’s length here.  Because they have challenging targets, they’ll compete for these resources.  However, they always think short-term.  As CEO, your job is to think long-term.  How are you managing your time to deliver to your company the projects, revenue, products and services that will future-proof the business?

    Big Deals

    I don’t care whether you’re extrovert or introvert, gregarious or cautious – one of your jobs is the Big Deal Handshake.  People buy from people.  That applies as much now as it ever did. You’re the most senior person in the business, so you need to be part of the sales process on bigger deals.  Meeting the CEO is a card your sales team can play when they feel the time is right.  But don’t be the Head of Sales.

    It’s part of building your knowledge about the industry.  And helping you get to know all your more significant customers.  Turn up, say hello and give them your direct mobile number.  Tell them if there are any problems, to call you.  And if they refuse to meet you?  Then it’s unlikely they’re going to buy from you. 

    I remember an office fit-out company, Morgan Lovell, used at Rackspace for our new offices in Stockley Park.  Their brand promise was why I chose them and went on to recommend them.  It was ‘No snags at handover’.  Their CEO met me 100 days after the completion of the project to ensure this had happened.  They were as obsessed with customer service as we were at Rackspace. A great match!

    Owning Culture

    Culture isn’t owned by HR.  It’s owned by you, as CEO.  It’s your job to design a culture that attracts and retains the talent you need to realise your strategy.

    Central to this culture has to be hiring and retaining A-Players.  Put simply, without good people, your business will stagnate.  When I see an organisation struggling to hire and churning talented people, I think the CEO is failing to manage culture properly. 

    Do you measure staff engagement?  There are plenty of great tools out there to help you keep track.  We use Friday Pulse, and in the past, we’ve used the Gallup Q12Prioritise happiness, and you’ll see exponential increases in productivity and effort.

    Do you assess talent in your company?  What’s your percentage of A-Players?  Who have you hired over the last 18 months?  Do you keep records of who hired them?  Are they still with you?  If you lost them, why was that?  Retrospectives can be so valuable here.

    Are you hiring fast enough?  If you’re struggling to hire, likely, you haven’t done enough to put your culture in front of people. Maybe there’s no clear purpose that people can buy into. When our client Excelsior MAT defined their reason for being, they went from 30 mediocre CVs to 300 great ones.

    And what about your Executive team?  If you’re CEO and accountable for recruitment, can you answer hand on heart that every member of your top team is an A-Player?  Because if they’re not, you’re not attending to your culture. You’ve decided to be mediocre.

    Being the public face

    As CEO, you’re the public face of your business.  No getting away from it.  If a quote or comment is needed, it has to come from you.  Podcasts, interviews and thought-leadership articles are all essential parts of your job.  By all means, have a team that supports you with this. But accept ownership of the message and content.  The combination of your seniority, title and influence will mean it’s worth far more than if it was written by someone else in your organisation.  The rest of the world wants it to be you.

    Owning the P&L

    Equally, you own the P & L.  But just because you own it doesn’t mean you can’t delegate it.  We suggest our clients make someone in their Executive Team accountable for every line of the P&L sheet. Whether learning and development, travel, equipment or something else, these present opportunities for senior leaders to operate across functions rather than in their silos.  It’s essential for team cohesion.  Ultimately, loyalty to the Executive Team should come first and their functional role second. 

    Strengthening Partnerships

    Your sales effort will likely involve inbound, outbound, channel and partnerships.  And you need to be a senior presence in those partnerships.

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    When I look back at our client New Signature, their Executive team were very involved at Microsoft. All the senior leaders went to Inspire, the annual Microsoft event in Vegas.  If you’re struggling to get partnerships or channels to work, you’re likely operating too low in the partner organisation.  Particularly if there’s a mismatch in size, it has to be peer to peer, so the higher you can go in the organisation, the better.  

    Written by business growth coach Dominic Monkhouse. Find out more about his work here. Read his book, ‘F**k Plan B’ here.

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