I saw this article on Harvard Business Review earlier today, which argues that a CEO should step out of the saddle before losing relevancy. There are some really well made points about tenure length, growing ‘stale’ and it leading to a cessation in ‘adaptive changes,’ much of which I agree with. The balancing piece that the article didn’t address was - How do you continue to stay relevant if a leader in a large business?
Speaking at the Telegraph Festival of Business in November, I outlined a philosophy I simply call Out/On/In (OOI) for how I broadly manage my diary. I use this to dictate how I invest (not spend) my time as head of a large organisation. It’s pretty simple and looks something like: -
OUT – 1/3 rd of time. Experiencing, seeing customers, visiting conferences, establishing new relationships, media relations activity, networking, connecting and creating. What’s changing in the external environment?
ON – 1/3rd of time. Processing what I’ve seen and the impact it has on our strategy, direction, course, decisions, organsisation. Reviewing the high level impacts of the things that I’ve seen and experienced for the longer term 3-10 years, so you can always keep rolling perspective of the future. What should we change about our direction now from what we’ve seen and heard?
IN – 1/3rd of time. Being in the business, reviewing process, people, performance and culture. Dealing with the practical implications of it all aswell as the other things that you need to service a large business as a leader. What should we change about our practice, process or culture to deal with the changes we need to make?
It’s a very simple system and it serves me really well, I don’t run it strictly to 1/3rd all the time, it’s a broad brush. Some months I’m more in that out. ‘ON can mean being in the office or thinking ‘OUT’ of the office depending on what’s going on and where I am relating to optimising my travel and diary optimisation. The key point is this, unless you spend time ‘Out’ you can quickly become one of those CEO’s who do become stale, losing perspective, relying on past data for decisions not the current day climate. You become the person in the HBR article.
Unless you are feeling, experiencing and seeing what is going on at a ‘meta’ level with the world, it’s so easy to fall asleep at the wheel oblivous to the landscape whizzing by at 125mph like landscape from a train window. By investing time ‘OUT’ in this way, you can make highly relevant decisions relating to your ‘ON’ and your ‘IN’ that are meaningful for the climate of today.
As a leader it energises you, pushes you to constantly ask yourself – “What does this mean for us?” Meeting lots of people, studying organisations, people, cultures and management styles gives you a shot in the arm to ensure you are always keeping up, learning, absorbing and keeping your skin in the game for mood music of today and tomorrow. If you do that, in my view, you won’t hit a sell by date because you are always remaining relevant my drawing on the now.
Boosted by reading books, being open to everything, staying approachable and always seeking feedback is a framework for staying in the saddle and galloping towards the future – saddle up!