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

Great Oaks, Little Acorns


This scrappy little car won’t win the Indy 500.  On the right racetrack, in the right race, it’s a high performer.

True or false:  if you can just identify and hire high-performing people, you’re golden.

False.   Performance is a way of behaving, and it emerges from a rich stew of variables.

Some variables are entirely in our own control.  Like our motivation, discipline, emotional intelligence, willingness to learn.   Others are random — like the good fortune to be born healthy, with access to education and opportunity.

Then there’s what leaders and managers add to the mix:  setting the conditions for performance.

When I was little, my mom used to tell me, “Great oaks from little acorns grow.”

Mom probably meant, do the work.  There’s more in this saying.

  • A maple won’t grow from an acorn.  Someone’s great track record doesn’t guarantee they’ll perform in your your culture.  Do hire to identify people who fit, and consider “fit” vs. conformity.  Too much “fit” risks what we used to call groupthink.
  • An acorn won’t grow in asphalt.  People thrive when you seed, and feed, your culture.  Know what you want, and make it clear to people in every way you communicate.  Start with your own behavior.
  • Water your acorns.  Give people opportunities to grow and develop.   Provide feedback:  make it actionable, and be sure you’re understood.   And lead by example — invite feedback, and act on it.

I’m also considering the saying, “When you see something, say something.”  When doing this doesn’t make the right difference, the next thing to say might be, “Goodbye and good luck.”

When I’ve seen this happen, it’s almost never because the person wasn’t a “high performer.”

(And yes, there’s still a couple of days to join a great group of explorers in Awaken to Your Workplace, my 2013 summer project…we’d love to have you!)

Photo:  High Performance Challenge by Amirul Hilmi Ariffin via Flickr, under Creative Commons license.