The Money Value of Time

Screen shot 2014-12-03 at 8.04.25 AM1:1 meetings at work.   Pretty mundane.  “Waste of time” activity.  Trivial.


Unless “Time is money.”

An incomplete notion.

You can’t earn time.  You can’t win it, borrow it, or compound it.

Lose it, you’ll never get it back.  Not so mundane in real life.

Time is more valuable than money.

And, as it turns out, not really trivial at the office.

Let’s do the math.   To avoid confusing myself, I’ll keep the numbers dead simple.

  • 1 manager, with 5 direct reports.
  • Bi-weekly 1:1 meetings with each team member.
  • Meetings last an hour.

That’s a chunk of your manager’s time, if she’s preparing/following up at all.  5-10%.

Or, conservatively value everyone’s time at $50 an hour.

  • 25 weeks a year X 10 hours X $50 = $12,500/manager
  • 5 managers, 25 team members = $62,500
  • Consider opportunity cost.  How do your people’s jobs involve generating revenue, or affecting user/customer experience?

So, not trivial.   You want to leverage everyone’s investment.   Here are a few guidelines.

Have an agenda centered around people’s formal goals, and take notes.  A key purpose of 1:1 meetings is knowing whether people are meeting their goals:  come into the meeting with a standard supporting agenda.

Where does someone stand?  Have they met a significant goal, or made fantastic progress?   Now’s the time to say, “Good job.”

If they’re struggling, what’s going on?   A manager adds value by helping people to move around barriers, and providing support for people to reach their goals.

This might be by giving feedback, by smoothing a cross functional communication, or by helping to prioritize.   It also includes checking in on professional development goals.

Do take notes.   (Not on your phone.)   This demonstrates active listening, and your notes can be extremely helpful when performance review time rolls around.

Create space for open conversation.   Once you’ve covered goals, use the power of open-ended questions to learn, and go deeper.

“How can I help you to do your job better?” enables people to ask for help.  “How can we make this meeting more effective?” builds relationship.

These and other questions can also set the stage for people to give their managers feedback, in a lower-stakes setting.   If a manager is truly listening!

Make 1:1 meetings face to face — or video conference.  You want to communicate, and to build relationship.   All kinds of research indicates that our words are only part of the picture.   Body language, facial expression, and tone of voice are all key.

Stow your technology.  Seriously.   What kind of interruption is truly necessary in the 30-60 minute confines of a 1:1?   A push notification that someone posted a joke to #random?

Unless your spouse may possibly go into labor (etc.), turn off your phone and anything else that might “ping.”   (Here’s why, via Scientific American.)

Now, this post was inspired by a brief exchange in comments over at Brittany Laughlin’s blog.

Brittany commented, “…it’s especially hard to get feedback…since there are only two people in the room.”

Yes.  Setting expectations that people will use a regular agenda is helpful.  Ideally, HR Chiefs and/or senior leaders would keep tabs on this.

Founders and senior leaders need to remember:  your people will mirror your behavior.   That’s how culture operates

Maybe you don’t have weekly 1:1s with the managers on your team.   Behave the way you want your people to behave with your team members on the front line.  In case you didn’t take this in earlier:  put your phone away, and really listen.

My guidelines are suggestions.   Time tested, they’re solid.  Maybe they don’t quite fit your situation.

What’s important:   have guidelines, communicate them, and train your people to use them.

Maybe you think it sounds stupid to train your managers to have 1:1 meetings.

Sadly, having seen organizations where this did not happen, I can tell you that it is exactly the opposite of stupid.

The only way to “leverage” time is to use it well.

Photo:  save-in-time, by DaveBleasdale via Flickr, under Creative Commons license

On Firing Someone


As kids, we were sometimes allowed to watch Saturday cartoons.  Poor George Jetson was always getting fired.

It’s no joke to fire someone.  And there’s a right way to let someone leave.

Start here:  allow people to leave with dignity.

When talking about why someone is leaving, have some standard, culturally resonant language about moving on, a communication template for use with employees and clients.

Keep it simple.  Don’t use words like “fired” or “terminated.”  Don’t blame, don’t address performance.  Wish people well on their way out the door.

And then, make this a standard practice.   Use it every time.   Anything more is nobody’s business.

In recent social conversation, a tech/startup denizen told me she had been coached to be “honest” about firing someone; this honesty was owed to other prospective employers.

Not recommended.  You may be seen to be disparaging your former employee, or to be harming his ability to make a living.  Beyond that sheer badness, your “honesty” could return to your firm as a threat of legal action.  It’s time consuming, and can be expensive.  This won’t serve your own company or investors.

Clients need to know how you’ll continue to serve them.   Not why someone left.

Internally, your people are smart.  It’s no secret when someone didn’t fit, or wasn’t doing his job.  People might even ask, “What took you so long?”

They’ll be watching you, and thinking, what happens when I leave?

How you treat people builds and reflects your culture.  Unless your core values include gossip or disparagement, don’t gossip or disparage.

When you fire someone publicly, kick them to the curb, and then take to media to defend your action, guess what?  You look like a lousy manager.

Who wants to work for a lousy manager?

An employment lawyer recently told me that we should never fire people — even for cause.  Instead, we should have a severance plan in place that offers a graceful exit to anyone who needs to leave.  Check with your own attorney on that one.

Why you fire someone can be far less relevant than how you do it, especially when the employee pursues legal action.

Photo:  Pointy, by A National Acrobat, via Flickr under Creative Commons license.

(5/19 update: I rarely edit a published post.  And did so this morning, after a journo friend asked why I had buried the lede.   It’s good to have friends!   Also good to check my own archives, as I realize I wrote a quite similar post in 2007.  Good management hygiene:  it’s evergreen.)