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You’re in charge and here’s why you deserve less time

Imagine the scenario – you’ve received instructions from the top that there are going to be changes to how your business operates.  There’ll be changes for your managers and teams, which you will need to plan and implement.  There’s a hard deadline for execution and you have two dependencies which stand between you and delivery; planning guidance from the top and an implementation plan from the team.  The deadline is approaching, and you cannot start the implementation plan until you have planning guidance.  Do you wait so you know what to plan for?  Or do you plan an implementation to the best of your knowledge knowing that you will have to replan?


This is not an uncommon story. You can change the scenario to nearly any task which involves more than one layer of an organisation and you have a very common problem.  By waiting for the planning guidance for example, you might be able to plan the set of activities with total clarity, but it will pressurise managers and teams.  It is likely that through stress and pressure, which could’ve been avoided, you will either meet your deadline with lower quality, or miss the deadline.


There is a simple rule that exists that executives and managers can use to trade their own planning time, for the creativity and quality of their teams.  Known as the one-third, two-thirds rule, this rule is used by military planners to ensure that everyone involved in the planning and execution of an operation receives an equitable amount of time to plan and prepare for what will ultimately be the success of their senior leaders. The keen-eyed will see that it’s not equal and that’s true.  What this rule provides is equity of time allocation based on the assumption that the executive layer is originating the plan and that complexity is resolved before passing to middle managers.  Of course, the executives can forfeit more planning time to enable their middle managers and teams to have more, but they must never take more than one-third of the available time.


The one-third, two-thirds rule allocates all available time equitably between management levels.


The military show the utmost respect for this rule as it demonstrates the respect that leaders have for their subordinates’ time and the value that leaders place in their teams to use their creativity and skills to solve problems.  Seasoned leaders will know that pressure on teams is useful to motivate action, but it doesn’t have to turn into stress. Stress seldom helps.  


There’s a great Harvard Business Review article by psychologist Liane Davey on explaining how stress stifles teams and some tips on how to use pressure appropriately.   

If you give your teams the two-thirds, you can also give support without inducing stress as it allows you to monitor the progress of teams when you have finished your own planning.  


We’re all planning hard and often at the moment so I’d be interested to hear your experiences of how you enable your teams to plan. Please do comment, like and share the article. If you would like to see more articles about business leadership subscribe for the latest content.

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