Are Managers Too Busy to Work Effectively?

ByABC News
March 1, 2002, 11:34 AM

March 6 -- These days it seems most people at the office are busier, jumping from project to project in an attempt to make up for colleagues lost after multiple rounds of layoffs.

But according to a new study, as companies try to keep their businesses on track with fewer employees, they run into a formidable roadblock: unproductive managers.

A mere 10 percent of executives spend their time in a committed, purposeful and reflective manner. That means the remaining 90 percent waste their time on a whole range of ineffective activities or do little at all, concludes the study, published in the February issue of Harvard Business Review.

Surprised? You shouldn't be. Experts, and even managers themselves, have long been aware of the downfalls of unproductive busywork or lack of focus, but many do not realize how costly it can be.

"It's a huge problem if the majority of managers don't know how to use their time wisely," says London Business School professor Sumantra Ghoshal, who co-wrote the study after dedicating 10 years to study management structures at nearly a dozen companies, including Sony, LG Electronics and Lufthansa.

Self Management Is Critical

The key to productive management is the right combination of focus and energy, argues Ghoshal.

Purposeful managers set their own agendas and then work hard to manage their external environment in a way that helps them achieve those goals, he writes.

Their unproductive counterparts often find themselves in reactive mode immediately addressing every issue that arises, going to endless meetings, obsessively answering e-mails and voice mails. In the end, their wheel-spinning tends to leave them over-committed and unable to deliver real results.

Other managers fail because while they're able to set goals, they either put them off and don't feel enough of a connection to their jobs to work hard and achieve them.

Interactive: Are You a Good Manager?

"Good managers aren't always busy, they don't have to work 70 hours a week, and they always have time to listen to their employees," says Dane Madsen, CEO of Henderson, Nev.-based online business directory firm