Calendar-Run Company

Of all the innovations, rather intrusions, of technology in day-to-day life, nothing comes close to the digital calendar in occupying the top spot. I am sure everyone (excluding those who live in a cave) is familiar with the uncomfortable buzz that your electronic devices emit to let you know that it is time for your next meeting or activity.

Those of you who are old enough to remember will long for the good old days of manual diaries and paper calendars, some hung on the wall and some others stuck to your fridge, where you had to make an entry with a pen or pencil indicating when your rent is due or when someone’s birthday is.

The corporate organizations of today seem to be run by a bewildering array of digital calendars. The calendar is no longer a productivity tool, as many management pundits would have to believe. You are effectively a slave to the master, the Calendar! In the spirit of an open office, other peoples’ calendars are game for you to insert entries at will – all you need is a blank space in time that is common across the designated audience. It helps if you are the boss as your subordinates cannot refuse your calendar ‘invite’ and you even have the authority to overwrite their ‘personal time off’.

There are many quirks in the world of calendars that provide humor and entertainment in their own right. For example, any calendar invite worth its salt will have a long list of dial-in information, for global participants, along with a series of code numbers to validate your identity. Getting past all these numbers and entering a virtual meeting on time could be a nerve wracking experience.

Then there are the innumerable updates that follow an original calendar invite.  There may be a dozen corrections to the original date, time, location (meeting room numbers are my favorite), invitees and even the very subject of the meeting – all of which will result in updated invites that will land in your inbox in random order. If you want to retain your sanity, you are best advised to ignore all these updates and hope that you will have the good (?) fortune to be at the right place at the right time.

Calendars are huge status symbols in the office. A full calendar that runs several weeks, even  months, into the future is an indication of how busy you are and, in turn, your importance in the organization. The fact that many of the meetings (the best ones are those that repeat every week or even more frequently) on the calendar are a complete waste of time is beside the point and is not to be questioned. This is where it helps to have friendly colleagues across multiple departments who can mutually invite each other to meetings, and follow up meetings, as needed. There is an ongoing, informal competition for executives to own the busiest calendars, with winners fighting hard to stay at the top.

Calendars can be used to avoid, or at least postpone, serious work. By ‘blocking your  calendar’ (a term that is all too familiar in the corporate world) for relatively unimportant, or even fictitious, discussions and tasks, you can effectively make yourself unavailable for any real work. If you manage to make yourself a part of a team that is geographically distributed, you will be able to practice this master trick with impunity, as no one person will know what all you are (not) doing – your calendar is your armor.

As with every other tool or technique in the corporate world, the calendar phenomenon can be used to your advantage.

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!