BY TOM COX
Create and measure success, month by month, with a CEO (or Executive) Calendar.
Being a CEO (or manager or front line worker) typically means having more things to handle than you can actually pay attention to. Most humans can track 3-5 important goals, and most businesses have 8-12 key elements.
Top executives aren't any smarter than the rest of us — they just use advanced tricks like “distributed cognition,” offloading their brains, working just the right amount on just the right things.
It’s easier than you think.
One great tool is the CEO (or Executive) Calendar. This directs your focus across the different areas you’re responsible for, at different times throughout the year. You’ll want to touch each area each month. The calendar helps you dive deeper at the right times during the year.
Using the CEO Calendar means (a) you won’t have to worry about remembering, (b) you can much more easily delegate work, and (c) you can anticipate needs and delegate early. I’m astonished at how few executives do this — and how common it is among the really top performers.
For example, suppose you've set a target in May of making your senior staff “more strategic.” Then in February you can assign “read over the Strategic Plan and send me a one-page summary” of how they see their department affected by it; in March you can give them feedback and ask for a revision, and in April you can ask them to draft an Operating Plan for their department based on that strategy.
By May, your “make my top people more strategic” goal is within reach based on that prior work.
Here’s another. You could assign this to each person with budget authority that reports to you: “Identify one rising star in your department. Have them draft your budget. Then, give them coaching on how to do it better. Send me both their draft, and an outline of your coaching guidance.” If budgets are due in month M, then you would assign this in month M minus 2, and expect it back in month M minus 1. (I.e. if budgets are due in October, then you’d assign this no later than August for a September delivery.)
With the calendar in place, you’re ready to empower your assistant to remind people of their deliverables in time to get them to you. Your assistant should also be reminding you to schedule time to review these priorities.
(More ambitiously, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer describes creating an annual ‘time budget’ in this Wall Street Journal interview.)
Below is a sample CEO Calendar you can use as a basis of your own. The real trick is to pick Quarterly Focus topics that really make sense for who you are, what your role is, and what the firm needs from you. Within that Focus, pick three monthly topics to work on.
Q3: Self Improvement
Jan – Strategic Plan
Feb – Compare 2012 to industry benchmarks
Mar – Refresh Operating Benchmarks and Operating Plans
Apr – Cost Control and Lean Office / Lean IT (Lean Grid)
May – Making Your Sr. People “More Strategic”
Jun – Motivating and Measuring – “The Progress Principle”
Q3: Self Improvement
Jul – Self Management and Emotional Maturity
Aug – Email, Meetings, Commitments, Accountability
Sep – CEO Disease and ‘Becoming Trusted’
Oct – Constructive Conflict
Nov – Mentoring and Coaching
Dec – Staff Reviews and Benchmarking
The Tom on Leadership column and blog will follow this calendar for 2013.
Tom Cox is a Beaverton consultant, author and speaker. He coaches CEOs on how to boost performance by building workplace trust. Email comments to tom(at)coxbusinessconsulting.com.">tom(at)coxbusinessconsulting.com.