The “20%-of-Your-Time” Rule-of-Thumb

Gaining the commitment of the right resources is arguably the greatest success factor for strategic initiatives.  Let’s say we have identified a competent strategic initiative leader in the organization. Chances are excellent that they have other responsibilities that they can not easily shirk or delegate. Does management make a tough choice, or hope that this person can do it all?

Reality Check: There are (only) 24 Hours in a Day

A practical problem for resourcing strategic initiatives is that the best people in any organization are kept very busy. Everyone wants a piece of their time. And they deserve a personal life, too.

Given this, I always probe for patterns that help me answer these questions:

Can individuals give the initiative more-than-enough time?
Have individuals identified the sacrifice they will make?

I inevitably hear people on the strategic initiative team verbalize this pattern: “This performance gap is huge and needs to be addressed. I am happy to be part of the solution.  But where am I going to find time to participate?”

A Useful Rule of Thumb for Staffing Strategic Initiative Teams

When resourcing of a strategic initiative, follow this rule,

Each key player in the strategic initiative must
devote at least 20% of their time to the initiative.

Everyone has heard (and used) the statement, “I didn’t have enough time” as an excuse. As a reality check, estimate the impact of 20% on a standard work period. Twenty percent amounts to

  • One day per 5-day work week
  • 96 minutes in a 8-hour day
  • Four days per month

I tell people on the strategic initiative teams, “If you can’t find sufficient time, you are not likely to succeed. You and your boss have some tough choices to make.” Another way to frame the issue is, “If you want to be remembered for five things this year, is the strategic initiative one of them?”

The implications resource availability to strategy are huge: If an initiative can’t get the resources, it should not be carried in the portfolio of strategic initiatives. The performance gap targeted by that strategic initiative will not be closed.

Five Challenges for Resourcing a Strategic Initiative

The resourcing headwinds for a strategic initiative includes:

  • Ambiguity about purpose. Strategy is inherently ambiguous. Ambiguity takes different forms, and is uncomfortable to many. Thus, people tend to avoid ambiguity; the consequence being that they don’t readily volunteer effort to the strategic initiative.
  • Novelty. Unfamiliar tasks are more likely to exceed the initial duration estimates.
  • Run-the-business work consumes time. People have many other responsibilities to fulfill in their organization.  This strategic initiative will likely be a part-time effort.
  • Corporate-level budgeting & talent management processes don’t plan with enough granularity. It is hard to know what competencies are needed and difficult to assess their availability.
  • Burn-out and balance of personal life with work life. High performers are ambitious, but face practical limitations on the amount of energy they have and the willingness to compromise health and family.  Unless the individual focuses, they become distracted, stressed, and are strategically ineffectual.

Based on your experience with strategic initiatives, is 20% too high or too low? How does it help force the discussion on prioritization?


About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
This entry was posted in Strategic Planning Issues for Strategic Initiatives, Success Principles for Strategic Initiatives, Useful Practices & Management Tools and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to The “20%-of-Your-Time” Rule-of-Thumb

  1. John Watson says:

    Great post Greg, I like the last one also, and have gotten lax in telling you how much I appreciate all of them

    I am heading to Vancouver tomorrow, when are you getting there?

  2. Pingback: The “20%-of-Your-Time” Rule-of-Thumb | The IT Department |

  3. Pingback: Designing Strategic Initiatives for Results: The Two Kinds of Coherence | Leading Strategic Initiatives

  4. Pingback: Seven Must-Do’s for Better Strategy Execution | Leading Strategic Initiatives

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