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What do bosses do all day?

The shocking truth can at last be revealed

May 5th 2011 | from the print edition
Gotta hone those networking skills

THANKS to closed doors and fierce gatekeepers, bosses are tricky to observe in their natural habitat. Yet it might be useful to know what they do all day, and whether any of it benefits shareholders. A new Harvard Business School working paper sheds some light.
Researchers asked the chief executives of 94 Italian firms to have their assistants record their activities for a week. You may take this with a grain of salt. Is the boss’s assistant a neutral observer? If the boss spends his lunch hour boozing, or in a motel with his assistant, will she record this truthfully? Nonetheless, here are the results.
The average Italian boss works for 48 hours a week and spends 60% of that time in meetings. The most diligent put in another 20 hours. And the longer they work, the better the company does.
Less diligent chief executives are more likely to have one-to-one meetings with people from outside the company. The authors speculate that such people are trying to raise their own profile, perhaps to secure a better job. Bosses who work longer hours, by contrast, spend more of them meeting their own employees.
Bosses often complain that they get bogged down in day-to-day operations, says Rajesh Chandy, a professor at the London Business School. Regulations that make them legally responsible for their underlings’ wrongdoings are partly to blame. The prospect of jail is a powerful attention-grabber. Many bosses also feel they must dash around the world pitching to clients. Jim Hagemann Snabe, co-chief executive of SAP, a software firm, reckons that he met over 200 last year. Mr Chandy thinks bosses should spend less time with clients and more time thinking about the future.
How much time they spend thinking about anything is hard to measure. But in an experiment, Mr Chandy measured how often bosses use forward-looking words like “will” and “shall” in their public statements. He concluded that bosses spend only 3-4% of their day thinking about long-term strategy.
但化多少时间才叫“多”这很难测定,强迪教授对首席执行官们的公开言论,进行了测试,看看他们使用涉及将来的词汇,如 “will” and “shall”的频率有多高。强迪教授做出了推断:这些CEO们只有3-4%是时间在思考未来的发展战略。
Brian Sullivan, the chief executive of CTPartners, a headhunting firm, says the most difficult part of his job is saying no to people who want a piece of his time. “If it was up to our partners I would be at every pitch,” he says. Mr Sullivan says the only time he gets for blue-sky thinking is when he is in the sky. “Chief executives will rue the day when BlackBerrys work on planes,” he predicts.
猎才公司CTPartners 的首席执行官布莱恩•沙利文评论自己的工作最困难的,就是以“没有时间”拒绝别人,他说:“只有对我们的合伙人,才会随时恭候。”沙利文说,只有飞在半空中的片段时刻,他才会去做一些空中楼阁的未来发展之类的思考。他预言,如果黑莓手机在飞机上还能正常工作的话,CEO们会懊恼不已了。
Bill Gates took regular “think weeks”, when he would sit alone in a cabin for 18 hours a day reading and contemplating. This, it is said, led to such strategic masterstrokes as “the internet tidal wave memo” in 1995, which shifted Microsoft’s focus (some say belatedly) to the web. But not every boss thinks he needs more time for thinking. “You can hire McKinsey to do that for you,” says one.
比尔•盖茨的工作日程中有固定的“沉思周”,这一周他闭门谢客,每天18个小时独坐室内,阅读、思考。据说,像1995年微软公司重要的战略决策 “迎接互联网浪潮备忘录” 就是盖茨“沉思周”的成果。这个备忘录使得微软公司能以聚焦互联网时代,也有人评价微软的转向已经有些迟缓了。但并不是所有的老板都觉得有必要花时间去沉思未来。有人这样说:“为什么不出钱让麦肯锡去代劳呢?”

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