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Grow Your Time and Business
Can you do both?

What is it worth to you to grow access to your time? Is it even possible?

Getting to the right answer starts with asking if you are growing or finding. Most managers ask if they can find time and then conserve it. When you ask if you can grow your access to it you are working from a different starting point.

Time is like any natural resource with which you build products. Like any other raw material, you use it but it's never in charge of you. Like a crop, assume that you manage your resources. When you start with that position, you can find that you can grow it.


Starting With Boundaries

In her role as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Tech CU in Silicon Valley, Barbara Kamm grows her access to time with boundaries and with confidence from self. She starts by scheduling time that she wants to have.

"We schedule meetings. We should also schedule other things that are important. If I want time to think or do some work, it doesn't (happen) unless I deliberately block it off."

For Barbara this is not about scheduling. It's about boundaries, and willingness to hold to them. "You have to set those boundaries. If you don't your schedule will be everybody else's schedule." That requires confidence in your ability to be in charge of your most important resource: Your self. That is from where she starts to grow time.

Barbara's boundaries are about prioritization and discipline. Part of the discipline is choosing what not to do. In the same way that a farmer improves her agricultural yield by not planting too much, you grow your available time by choosing what not to plant into your calendar.

Charles Rogers from technology leader Nexmo is finding the right boundary for himself and his team. He wants his direct employees to do things on their own but he wants some things done right every time. He recognizes that he can't grow his team, or himself, if he tries to manage what the team does in every important task. So he sets boundaries. He gives his staff great latitude right up until they produce customer-facing materials. Then he gets involved to check what the customer will see to ensure that it meets the standard that he sets.

This boundary is clear for the team. If the deliverable meets his standard, then he does not need to spend time on why and how. If it doesn't meet the standard, he can tell the individual what would meet the standard and to try again. If the work is not customer facing, he can keep a much looser hand on what is produced. Charles no longer does or even checks all the work his team produces. He reviews it later for his own understanding, and he invests his best time into work that is customer facing.

As Charles does this he is saying no to doing work that his team can and should do. Leaving something alone is difficult. Saying no to a meeting or a priority is not always easy. He does it because he feels confident in where he is taking himself. It works when he is confident from his core values, from self.

Charles is growing time for things that he wants on his schedule. By using boundaries and trust, Charles grows the time that he can access for critical issues that he should handle. He feels more ownership of his day.


Using Boundaries Like a
Jigsaw Puzzle Box Top


Making the choice to let people learn is about choosing and holding a boundary. Barbara and Charles work on the assumption that you can and should know the details of what is going on in key parts of your business. Their boundary is the line between knowing it and doing it. This is assigning a jigsaw puzzle, showing the box top and then letting the team assemble the pieces without your intervention. You define the box top. The team assembles the pieces their own way. You inspect the result. You don't invest time building it. Once you set the box top, you have set the boundaries and you can step away from the way it will get assembled.

Boundaries can be difficult. Holding boundaries requires self-confidence on your part and on your team's part. Helping your team can be an exercise in assisting them to recognize their own confidence. That means helping them see their internal strength.

As you do this, you may not get quick results. You will get to invest trust in them for a while before it pays off with them trusting themselves and then you. Investing in that now helps you grow more access to time later. The payoff is very worthwhile.


The Question That Divides Teams
and Limits Growth


I often make a simple request of teams. I ask them to tell me:

- "Can you ask yourself a question for which you cannot find an answer?"

Over hundreds of conversations in which I have asked that question, the answer was obvious to almost every person whom I asked. In most teams, members are shocked to find that their coworkers have a different answer than they do. That difference matters.

Consider: If you lead a team of people where half think the answer is yes and half say no, will that impact how the team works together? If they don't work as well together, what does that mean for your growth?

Either they know that they'll to find the answer, or they put themselves in a more restricted place where the answers have to come from outside themselves. If you want to grow your time, you'll want to get all of your key team members to agree on the same answer to that question. This is a core value. It defines boundaries which each individual chooses as real.

If your team does not agree on one answer to this question, you want to know now and not later. To grow your time, you need to understand how you and your team set boundaries.

We each set our own boundaries. When we do, we limit what we can and will do in a given set of situations. Ethical behavior is a boundary. Fiduciary responsibility is a boundary. So is the choice to not do the work of others. As is the choice to allow mistakes, starting with each of us allowing ourselves to err. We need boundaries in business to manage well. That question about capabilities shows a current boundary that we hold.

Each of us can do this. Each of us can set boundaries. Each of us is strong enough to enforce the boundaries we set. That strength comes from within, and with confidence from self.

That leads to a question on empowerment: Who empowers your team?


Who Empowers Your Team?

Another question I use to illuminate key boundaries is:
 - Are you empowered by the company, or
 - Are you empowered by your self?

The first is empowered by an outside power, the second empowered from within. There is no wrong answer. What is worth knowing is whether members of the same team have different answers. That disparity would make it hard to manage the team to the same goals. This is another core value for your team.

Managing that disparity in your team is time consuming, not time growing. It starts with you as the leader. You can address the question and grow your time, starting now.


Applying This In A Regulated Business

When Barbara took her CEO role, Tech CU was following a traditional path. The good news about most credit unions is that they have a predictable business model. They are retail businesses, working with individual savers and borrowers. The bad news is that in a difficult economy the retail business is like a one legged stool; it is unstable. In the case of her CU, "I believed that to stay exclusively on a retail platform was akin to a slow death."

To grow instead of die, Barbara chose to develop a commercial portfolio. Retail and commercial are two different kinds of business catering to two different kinds of customers. When one revenue stream is down, the other can cover for it.

Retail banking is about many similar transactions. These regulations are "cookie cutter." In the retail world, borrowers are treated as individuals but the CU does not address each transaction uniquely. Exceptions are to be minimized.

Commercial banking requires constant development and monitoring of individual transactions. Instead of groups of transactions, each loan is individually crafted and managed. The banker succeeds when he or she knows each customer well and is able to craft the package around each. In the commercial business exceptions are desirable.

Running that commercial business is entirely different from running a retail banking operation. Tech CU's team was expert in retail banking. The regulators responsible for ensuring that the CU is well run were just as expert in retail. However, they are unfamiliar with commercial.

When the CU added commercial loans "the regulators (started) to quake in their boots. They don't understand business loans. We have to be very patient about explaining what we are doing and why." The team's position is that they might be: ". . .training the regulators. We can help them learn." And it was and is clear that the overseers need to learn in their own way. They needed a good box top. They also need to work the puzzle on their own.

When the regulators come to the CU, the team there is both supportive and willing to hold to boundaries. The team members show their support when they are happy to help the regulators understand this different business.

The test comes when a regulator insists on treating commercial loans as though they are retail. An agency supervisor may insist on enforcement that would hurt the commercial customer, the loan, or the result to the credit union. When that happens the CU team member has to stand up and say that their commercial customer needs to be treated differently from a consumer loan. The team member has to enforce a boundary.

"We are not going to let the regulators run our business for us. We are going to keep moving forward and doing the right thing." Here is where success requires confidence from self. "We are going to be questioned, we going to be possibly written up on examinations. We have to go" to uncomfortable places. However Barbara is clear that the CU wants the regulators to understand and support Tech CU team in this growth to a different market. "We have to do what it takes to bring the regulators along with us."

Does this grow access to time? In the short run, no. However, any other alternative is going to set up a constant contention between the governing bodies and the credit union. If that happens the customers lose and the CU loses. To grow time, to grow the CU, Barbara's team has to hold to boundaries immediately. You can direct this, and help everyone on the team feel confident in the group and in himself or herself. When you help them to do the puzzle assembly without you, it will increase your access to more time.


Managing From Boundaries

Can you grow your access to time? Can you grow confidence from self? You can. As you do, your business is easier to manage and to keep on the right track for sustainable growth.

Today, Barbara is managing a financial institution into the next level where it can be more stable. That would normally suck up an immense amount of time. However, now she is increasing her available time to do that well. She chooses to set boundaries, and hold to them. This works because she is driven from within instead of driven by the people around her.

Barbara and Charles must work with their teams and help them by setting the direction. Then Charles and Barbara make the conscious decision to trust their teams to do the right things inside boundaries that they set. They lead by setting puzzle box tops, by helping the team members feel competent to act on their own. Is there any reason that you cannot do the same?

Barbara put it well when she quoted a former mentor:

"Leadership is about making people like themselves when they are in your presence"

People are more likely to like themselves, and be more productive, when they are learning and when they feel confident in themselves. When you set boundaries, when you govern, and when you model confidence from within, you are helping make that happen. You grow your own business, from within you. And you grow your own access to time in the same way. When you work from this perspective, you are in charge of your time and so is your team. That is key to being in charge of your business.

Peter Meyer is a founder and principal of The Meyer Group, a management consulting firm specializing in creating new markets. He has done speaking tours on management, technology, and strategies throughout the United States and in Europe, the Far East, and Australia. He has also twice addressed the Commonwealth Club of California and guest lectured at the University of California and at Santa Clara University. He has published articles in Excellence Essentials, The Wall Street Journal, The Canadian Business Review, Business Horizons, Dateline, Internet Business Journal, Executive Female, and The Recorder as well as a profile of him in Entrepreneur.




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