When I was coaching a manager recently, I’ve learnt that most of his time was spent firefighting and he always gets behind with his day.

Dr. Stephen Covey’s 7th Basic Habit of Highly Effective People advises, “always take time to sharpen the saw.” Don’t be like the woodcutter who doesn’t want to stop and sharpen his saw simply because he is too busy sawing.

When it comes to progressing, developing, and getting the results you want, I use the following hierarchy when helping businesses: Setting the Standard; Improvement; and Innovation.

Before you spend time and effort in improving or innovating, the first thing to do is to always check if a standard is in place. Don’t think too hard, get the basics right, and ensure they are being adhered to.

People often interchange improvement and innovation. But innovation goes beyond making improvements, taking your organisation to a new level, where speed-to-results is incorporated in your thinking.

Why Do Improvement And Innovation Matter?

We all appreciate that if you don’t make time to improve and innovate, you won’t stay competitive, you won’t make progress, and you won’t have a sustainable

business model; all you’ll be doing is covering old ground.

The reasons for this are largely centred around change. Markets evolve, economies shift, customer requirements vary, materials are modified, and employees move on.

So even if you’re carrying out every stage of your routine perfectly, you still need to improve and innovate.

If you don’t, you won’t keep up with the changes happening in the world around you. If you do nothing, you’ll be going backwards, because everything and everyone else will be moving ahead.

Continuous improvement is key…

  • More than 54% of all improvements increase staff and customer satisfaction
  • Expect that >13% of improvements implemented by your staff will save your company money
  • One in four improvements save time—the average improvement saves almost one hour per day
Finding The Time

My financial adviser gave me a great piece of advice. He said that, before anything else, you must pay yourself first by setting aside money for savings and investments. Only after you have allocated that money should you pay for your living expenses and put some money away for unexpected events.

I thought about this and realised it’s exactly the same as setting aside time for improvement and innovation. Your income represents your eight to ten-hour working day. As well as having time for routine work, which is equivalent to your daily living expenses, and a buffer for the unexpected, which is the same as an emergency savings fund, you need to set aside time for improvement and innovation, which is your investment in your future.

How Much Time?

How much time should you set aside for improvement and innovation? The ratio for leaders should be the majority of your time. This includes setting the strategy for your company or department, coaching your

people, and improving processes and procedures. The remainder is devoted to standard routines and allowing for the unexpected—unforeseen or unplanned tasks. Ratios will vary depending on everyone’s role in the organisation.

I have seen many businesses, including that manager I’ve recently coached, unknowingly deprived of the time to improve because they are too busy constantly putting out fires. It’s a Catch-22!

TRADITIONAL Management Day-in-the-Life Scenario

WORLD-CLASS Day-in-the-Life Scenario

Problems shouldn’t come in unexpectedly. You can minimise the unexpected by proactively implementing improvement opportunities. This comprises the majority of the time you spend improving and innovating by taking steps such as developing a new strategy of an operational process, improving people’s skills through continuous coaching, proactively assessing risks, and investigating new markets.

You should always anticipate and look for where fires might start so that you can take action to prevent them. This applies across all areas of your business.

Continuous Improvement Is A Mindset

When you are juggling sales, customer satisfaction, service delivery, quality, health & safety, people, culture & morale, and operational costs, as well as continuous improvement, it is easy to drop something. Making improvements is usually the first thing to go. To ensure you are making time for improvements, I urge you to build it into your thinking, as well as your schedule. Keep your focus on spending time on improvements before you attend to your routine tasks or unexpected events.

Remember not to confuse the important with the urgent!


Alfred Ablaza is Australia’s Authority on Operational Performance through People Engagement. For over 26 years, he has paved the way for business leaders to achieve the speed they need to optimise their highestvalue operations through sustainable change.

Alfred has 20 years of experience at Nestlé and is recognised as a world-class Improvement Specialist and Lean Six Sigma expert. He is highly sought-after by organisations in the manufacturing and service industries, ranging from domestic organisations through to blue chip multinationals, which value his ability to improve performance, reduce waste, elevate product quality, increase customer satisfaction, and develop people and culture. In Alfred’s book, Speed-to-Results!, he busts through the Top Ten Myths and Misconceptions that cost companies time and money.

To order your free copy of Speed-to-Results!, visit www.SpeedToResults.com.au/MEL