The $300 an hour employee


In the past couple of months I have heard some scary things.

Rest assured it wasn’t about America going to hell in a handbasket if (fill in the blank) was elected president.

No, what scared me was learning how some business owners spend their time.

I’m not talking about owners who run very small operations and so they must do everything from unlock the front door in the morning and then empty the waste baskets before they head home at night.

The owners I spent time conversing with have more than fifty full-time employees and have annual revenues in the millions of dollars.

These are pretty good size businesses; they are growing companies and all appear to have expansion opportunities to pursue.

You’d like to think that these companies have strategic and operating plans. They don’t.

You’d like to believe that all their full-time employees have been formally evaluated or assessed on a regular basis. They haven’t.

It would be nice if you could read a formal marketing or sales plan that outlines where profitable future growth will be coming from. But you can’t because no such document has ever existed at these companies.

So, how do these owners spend their time? They administrate. They don’t lead.

And, as you can see from the statements above, some of these folks aren’t very good at administration.

In his 1989 book “On Becoming a Leader,” Warren Bennis wrote that the manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is always on the horizon (meaning the future; what is coming).

It’s hard to look very long or hard at the future when the owner thinks that reviewing time cards, questioning purchase orders for $50, and checking to make sure that that the lowest wattage light bulbs have been installed throughout the building is more important.

In at least one of these companies, the owner uses fear as the motivator. Funny thing is, he thinks he is well liked and respected by his employees. He isn’t.

I have heard “in MY business” a lot more than I would like. Rarely have I heard “in OUR business.” Which choice is more inclusive and would serve the company better?

Why don’t these owners make the leap to becoming genuine leaders?

Three reasons stand out. The first is that they don’t know what leaders are supposed to do or, put another way, how they should spend their time. The second is that change is difficult and will often occur only when forced to happen. The third is a lack of trust.

Of these, the most critical one is having a lack of trust, which I will address next column.

I encourage any owner who wants to improve their own effectiveness and efficiency to do two simple exercises. The first is the make a list of the all the things, tasks, activities that they detest doing. Whatever is on the list should either be eliminated or delegated to someone who will do it better.

The second thing to do is give yourself an hourly rate. For this exercise, use $300 per hour. That breaks down to $5 a minute.

Before you start one of those administrative tasks, ask yourself if that is worthy of a $300 per hour employee. Because it isn’t — you have far better ways to spend your time as the leader of a business.

Ken Keller is a syndicated business columnist focused on the leadership needs of small and midsize closely held companies. Contact him at [email protected]. Keller’s column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of this media outlet.


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