Why Employees See Things Differently

In speaking with business leaders and executives, one of the most commonly expressed concerns is the difficulty they experience in getting employees to think strategically and to consider the broader business implications of their decisions and actions. Consider, for example, time.

Salvador Dali, Portrait of Time, Photograph by Julo, Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

Time is Money

Effective business executives know that time is (literally) money. That’s why they hire employees and then delegate anything that doesn’t require their presence as a leader, their expertise or their authority. They think carefully before allocating time to an activity and, if they’re really on the ball, they think carefully about wasting the time of their employees too. From an executive’s perspective, calling a meeting that pulls in the entire management team means a significant expenditure of organizational talent and money—so it had better be worth it. To illustrate:

  • The average salary for an operations manager is just over $60,000 in the U.S[1]., so we’ll use that as a reference point
  • Seven managers are called to a weekly management meeting for a general update and the meeting typically lasts 90 minutes.
  • These meetings also eat up 15 minutes on either end for preparation and getting back into the workday.
  • The total time expenditure per week is 14 hours for a weekly cost of approximately $420 in base salaries plus approximately $122 in benefits and other costs[2]—28,000 each year (or enough to hire another front line employee!).

And this doesn’t take into account the work that did not get done while everyone was in a meeting. This is the sort of mental calculation that executives apply to everything within an organization because it’s their job to consider the big picture.

Employees, on the other hand, seldom think about time as money. Conscientious employees do think carefully about budgets and actual expenditures. They understand the need for processes to approve and monitor expenses and company cash, but they seldom think about the wasted resources and lost productivity that result from unnecessary meetings or meetings that involve people who don’t need to be there.

Time is Relative

Another aspect of time that’s perceived differently by executives than by front line employee is timing. Executives think about timing in terms of quarters, year-ends and multi-year strategies, while employees are focused on fulfilling the day-to-day requirements of their jobs and getting things done now. So, from the shop floor, it often seems that issues raised by employees take forever to resolve and new initiatives get discussed for eons before action is taken. But what employees see as a lack of urgency and interest from leadership may simply be the need to assess impact, consider alternatives or address more strategic priorities first.

Bringing it into Alignment

Time is only one of many ways in which executives and employees operate from very different perspectives. The question we need to ask is: How can this perceptual chasm be bridged, and does it matter? We know that goal alignment within an organization is critical to sustained business success. Business leaders recognize the value and power of an aligned workforce that pulls together in the same direction. Increasingly, today’s leaders are giving employees permission to look beyond their defined place in the organization; encouraging them to think strategically and creatively about systems, processes and how their roles could more effectively contribute to the company’s mission and purpose.

Unfortunately, permission and encouragement are not enough. In order to rise above the job of work that employees are responsible for delivering every day, they need more than words. Thinking strategically and considering the broader business implications of one’s decisions and actions takes time and requires focused, creative thought. After all, that’s why executives hire employees in the first place—to make sure the daily work of the business gets done so they have time to focus on the big picture and make good decisions.

Clearly there is value in tapping into the collective creativity of an aligned workforce.  Just make sure that the permission and encouragement to think big are real and properly supported, so employees are not frustrated by being put in a catch 22 situation.

At minimum employees will need:

  1. Enough high-level information to effectively consider broader business implications.
  2. Time and space away from daily tasks to make the necessary mental shift and apply creative thought to bigger issues.
  3. Real permission not pseudo-permission; in other words, the ability to reschedule deadlines or drop other deliverables without reprisal.
  4. Recognition when they lift their eyes up from the daily grind and start performing in complete alignment with company strategy and goals.


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