The Busy Executive

There are many flavors of humorous, offensive, irritating, annoying, useless, harmful and competitive behavior in the corporate world. There is one that stands out well above the rest – the ‘busy executive’ phenomenon!

Everyone is, or should be, busy – this is the mantra of the corporate world. An executive’s importance is judged largely by how busy he or she is – this translates, in real terms, to how long a wait is expected before you can get an audience with the person concerned. An executive who responds with, “Come now” to the query, “I need 10 minutes of your time” is clearly not in the right league to join the ‘C’ club!

It is every corporate executive’s yearning to have a secretary or executive assistant whose primary job is to fill the executive’s calendar as far into the future as possible. In those organizations where the calendars are open and accessible, it is a game of grab-and-secure time slots. Many times, placeholders are created on the calendar without even knowing what needs to be discussed. Then there are the recurring meetings – the dream of the calendar-filling population – which are often created when some senior manager gets an obnoxious call from an irritated customer. Repetitive review meetings are the corporate panacea for placating customers! Other common themes for meetings at dangerously regular frequencies are: budget review, headcount review, customer pipeline, inter-departmental touch base, annual day celebration and cafeteria menu.

Another thing that keeps everyone busy in the corporate world is the fact that everyone attends, or is forced to attend, every meeting. In the name of an open management style, several dozen people are included in any given meeting. This leads to the bizarre scenario of an accountant attending a software quality assurance meeting or a programmer attending a meeting to discuss travel policy. If we all had infinite time at our disposal, we could all be going round in circles, seeking and attending meetings without regard for relevance or purpose. But, in the real world, this acts as a huge deterrent to productivity.

The senior executive behind closed doors is the modern day mystery comparable in intrigue to the computer operator during the mid-90’s, sitting inside huge glass enclosures surrounded by swirling tape drives and flashing consoles. If you were a fly on the wall observing what this executive is up to, you will be surprised to see what the executive is busy with behind closed doors. I will leave it to your imagination as to what these activities might involve but would suggest that these are not connected with deciding the fate of the company!

Another common phenomenon that afflicts ‘busy’ executives and how they spend their time, especially in today’s connected world, is the convergence of personal and official commitments. It is a natural phenomenon that at senior levels in the corporate world executives stay connected with other similar executives in other organizations – customers, business partners, industry leaders, etc. There is extensive and ongoing interaction amongst this group. Quite often, such interactions begin to focus (exclusively) on planning for social meetings, their favorite charities/clubs, golf events and other social events at the cost of spending time on important business matters and decisions that need immediate attention.

A variation of the busy syndrome is doing busy work. In this scenario, genuine work is being done but not necessarily with any purpose or goal. Examples of such work would be recreating a list with first and last names reversed, recreating a report with bar charts replaced with pie charts or changing the colors of name plates in the office – these activities usually do not add value to the core business of the company but take precious time of employees away from mainstream work. And, the higher the executive is in the organization the more the ability to create such busy work.

One can go on with such examples but I am sure you get the general idea by now. One does understand that, for the level of responsibility and the 24/7 nature of many senior executives’ jobs, they do need the flexibility to mix ‘business with pleasure’ but don’t be fooled by the constant ‘busy’ signal emanating from those office cabins!