When we talk about the capitalist economy, we generally refer to money as capital; indeed, companies, investors and executives are fixated by financial metrics; ROI, EBITDA, etc. Sure, it’s an essential component that fuels the corporate machine, but it’s not necessarily the most important one. As many successful entrepreneurs will attest, you can start a business without capital, but you can’t do it without people.
The element that people contribute to work is time. Time is even more valuable a commodity than money as it’s perishable; you can’t store it up to use in the future in the same way you can with capital. Yet we don’t have the same focus or fixation about the more valuable commodity of time as we do money? When did you last hear the CEO of an organisation talk about his ROT (return on time) ratio when presenting his company’s results. As individuals, we don’t generally think about time in the same way as we do money; it’s somehow less tangible and therefore not perceived in the same way, yet it’s infinitely more valuable to all of us in reality.
How companies invest their human resources has changed dramatically post the industrial and technological revolution’s. Employee time has shifted from manual labour (unless you count tapping on a keyboard as manual labour) to mental labour with outputs increasingly focused around ideas, designs, analysis, decision making, communication and persuasion. Companies are still consuming similar volumes of employee time but using it for different means. However, the evolution of AI may lead to a paradigm shift in the not too distant future.
Time is not just important as a measure of investment or consumption. As a continuum, it plays a fundamental role in the life-cycle of both products and markets. I remember my MBA marketing class back in the ’80s when the focus was all about the Product-Market-Place fit. The concept of “place” has become largely irrelevant due to market globalisation and logistics. Time, or more specifically, timing, has become the all-important 3rd dimension. All successful products have their “time” look how the consumption of music has evolved over the last fifty years: records -> cassettes -> Walkman’s -> iPod’s -> mobiles.
I spent eighteen years with one company in the holiday industry, evolving from a single travel agency to the worlds largest travel company through a process of constant innovation and product development. Five years after I left, the company went bust. Why? Because it failed to foresee how its customers would embrace the market disruption created by the advent of low-cost airlines and the fragmentation of the distribution enabled by the internet. Timing is critical to product marketing, and to be consistently successful, a company has to be fixated about its customers and constantly innovating. Today’s buzzword is “customer centricity”. This is essentially about not just knowing who your customers are and what they are buying today and understanding their aspirations, attitudes, and changing behaviours. To support a process of constant innovation, you need teams of critical thinkers to challenge the status quo and product visionaries a-la Apple’s Steve Jobs who can foresee what your customer doesn’t yet know they want.
Building, retaining and motivating your teams is another continuum to be managed. Their aspirations change over time, so you need to be cognizant of this and have programmes to nurture their growth. CEO’s need dynamic strategies to manage both the human resource and technological life-cycles of their companies. The constant development of your people is vital, so is the timing of recruiting and letting go. Don’t waste time by delaying decisions on essential changes; it’s important to keep momentum and strive to create an agile organisation that relishes change.
Ask yourself – how agile is your company? It many respects, the COIVD-19 pandemic posed that question for many CEO’s. Those companies with the organisational agility to quickly pivot their products or service delivery have been best placed to survive and prosper. An ex-colleagues of mine who has gone on to build a very successful business signed off all his emails with “speed wins”. This set the tone for his product development team, which was great for getting products to market fast, but the rest of the organisation wasn’t so nimble, so it created problems with service delivery. To be successful, you have to ensure the whole organisation is geared up and in sync to move fast together and respond to the speed of business today – you need a “speed enabled organisation”.
A speed enabled organisation needs:
• Visionary leadership
• A culture that embraces critical thinking and relishes change
• Agile teams and technologies
• Excellent communication
• Customer centricity
• Constant product innovation
• A dynamic approach to human resource management
Looking forward, when reflecting upon time as a continuum, I only see a continued acceleration in the speed of business. Product and technology life-cycles will continue to shorten, placing even greater pressure on companies to become more dynamic and responsive. In contrast, when thinking about time as a commodity, it is clear that the adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) will significantly impact organisations freeing up human resources. The question we should be considering is – how and where will we re-invest the time? Perhaps to re-balance our lives, spend less time working and more time enjoying the richness our short existence.
How would changing to a four or even three day working week improve your life?