The Executive 5% Challenge

team-huddleTime seems like an absolute kind of term. Ask a scientist. Go ahead, I’ll give you a few minutes to get back to me.

When you start talking to executives, however, the concept gets a bit slippery. Executives – and scientists, for that matter – are human beings, of course. As the pendulum of the grandfather clock in the corner faithfully swings without our consideration, people are having their own relationship with time. And it’s an emotional one.

Clocks measure time in terms of intervals – years, hours, seconds…. People measure time in terms of events. Part of an executive’s job is to determine which events must occur in which order and within what amount of time, which translates to determining organizational priorities. Some are better at this than others. Surely you’ve met someone who’s proven his or herself to be a magician of time, performing astounding feats of time management outside the comprehension of us mere mortals. You’ve also met hapless souls, certainly, who manage nothing except to miss the bus, no matter how exact the schedule.

You there, fellow human being and executive: I’d like to communicate an idea that may seem counterintuitive. Bear with me – sometimes a writer can do no better than to pull out a few clichés. First, we know that time is money. Second, we need to spend money to make money. If the first statement is true, we can substitute the word “time” for either instance of the word “money” in the second statement. Spending time to make money is one variation; spending time to make time is another. Simple algebra, yes? This is truly about executives spend time on executive level priorities.

Now I’d like to introduce what I’ll call the “5% Challenge.” If your executive team would commit to a disciplined schedule of meetings that will total about 5% of each executive’s time per month, you could improve your company’s customer loyalty, increase morale, reduce errors, double your communication effectiveness, increase revenues and improve cash flow. Isn’t all that worth the 5% time commitment? I challenge you to try it for 12 months.

Some simple math

If you’re rolling your eyes at this point, I wouldn’t blame you. But here is how the math works (and don’t you want to be the one who “gets” this, rather than your competition?). If you and your team would be willing to start the year with a very effective two-day strategic planning session offsite, that adds up to 16 hours. A quarterly eight-hour offsite session to review the previous quarter’s priorities represents 24 hours of planning time. Add to that a half-day review session once a month, except January and the three quarterly planning months – an additional 32 hours. To sum up so far, we have 16 + 24 + 32 + one hour a week in an executive review meeting. That totals 136 hours annually. On the surface, I realize that seems like a lot of time to keep people away from their desks. But I’m going to institute one more discipline: a 7-minute daily Huddle that all executives participate in with every associate in the company at the start of every shift.

Most executives do a poor job of planning, not to mention communicating the operational components to others. I am proposing a system that elicits a knee-jerk response from most executives. If you’re thinking, “I could never sell that at my company because it takes too much time!” you’re not alone. Remember I acknowledged that people have an emotion-based relationship with time. You’re only human! But let’s invoke your rational side with a bit more math. This will just take a moment.

Assume you are an executive who works 10.5 hours a day, times five days a week. I doubt that, but for argument’s sake, let’s allot 52.5 for your regular week. Now let’s assume three weeks’ vacation, and multiply 52.5 hours by 49 weeks. You would work 2,572 hours a year. The 136 hours of planning time we tallied earlier plus the 7-minute daily Huddle amount to a whopping 148 hours a year! Well, it seems like a whopper until you do the final math and discover that represents just 5.7% of the total 2,572 hours worked.

I’ve probably made this seem simple. It is! However, it’s not easy – though it is powerful. In less that 6 percent of each executive’s time at work, this disciplined sequence of meetings can and will reinvent how your company plans and executes. If every employee, from the C suite to the front line, is on the same page and participating in your 7-minute Huddles, morale and engagement have nowhere to go but up.

A daily tune-up

The daily huddles would be the easiest to “let slide,” especially during perceived busy times. But you and your management team must transcend that emotional reaction to the time involved. Go back to the math. The huddles are powerful, and serve to provide continuity and accountability. They instill a constant ethic into your organization that will carry through the planning established at the more-intensive sessions that happen throughout the year.

Pierson Gerritsen is an Executive Vice President I had the privilege of working with to institute such planning discipline into his company. He said:

John was masterful in training our 90+ person staff to effectively participate in “Daily Huddles.” His advance work with our Executive Committee resulted in setting clear goals and expectations for the Huddles and defined a clear process for keeping each meeting fresh and on-point. His expertise was on display on training day! He worked in small groups and modeled the key aspects of the Huddle: attentiveness to the schedule, maintaining a clear agenda, crisp delivery of information, and effective facilitating of issues that should be addressed in separate conversations. Thanks to John’s coaching, the Daily Huddle has become a valued part of each day.

Just imagine how alignment, communication and accountability will improve with this much attention to a disciplined regimen of meetings. Personal accountability increases when every employee shares in their Huddle the most important task they must complete that day. It takes time and discipline to get 10,000 associates to make this tempo a priority and actually look forward to these meetings. We achieved this very result in a four-hospital system while surgeries took place and ER visits were underway. Three years later, nurse turnover was reduced to a point that it saved more than four million dollars. The daily Huddles’ quick-tempo agendas improved communication so much that “trust in management” increased by 89% over a two year period.

You may be thinking it will take your organization a few weeks or months to develop this discipline and get it right. Last month, a reporter asked a member of the University of Connecticut Women’s basketball team if Coach Geno Auriemma works everyone hard until they get it right. She answered, “No, we practice it until we can no longer do it wrong.” Take a cue from this coach, whose teams have earned 8 National Titles and 4 perfect undefeated seasons. Are you willing to stick to it until you cannot do it wrong?

Speaking of coaching, I have never seen this 5% system work without some outside expert training and assistance. And it’s worth the investment. It can reinvent how excited your employees are when the culture of your company is engaging and makes it a great place to work. That excitement influences every aspect of how they deliver your product or service. The size of your company doesn’t matter. The number of locations in the number of states or countries is not a factor, either. What does count is your executive commitment to a new methodology for planning, communication, execution – and sustainable profitability.


John Lankford

John Lankford was recognized as the 2007-2010 Associate Business Advisor of the Year in North America and brings proven executive experience and best practices to select companies every year. He served 18 years at the Executive Education Center at Ford Motor Company and is former Senior Director of Ascension Health Learning Institute. John has developed top leaders around the world in partnership with the University of Michigan Business School, the Center for Creative Leadership, Comcast University and GE University, to name a few. His business expertise has been tapped by prominent business media such as the New York Times, CBS and Dbusiness magazine and has been a syndicated business columnist. He is the author of The Answer is Leadership and Superstar for life…Career Transitions. John’s keynote speaking has landed him on the elite team that trains and certifies the new Executive Coaches joining the worldwide coaching community. John is also former Chief Executive Officer of the Innisbrook Leadership Institute. Lankford can be reached at or call (888) 730-1950

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