What CEOs Do, and How They Can Do it Better

A CEO's schedule is especially important to a firm's financial success, which raises a few questions: What do they do all day? Can they be more efficient time managers? HBS professor Raffaella Sadun and colleagues set out to find some answers.
by Michael Blanding

Why did you come in late on Tuesday? Did you really need an hour and a half for lunch on Wednesday? Why wasn't that report done by Thursday? For most of us, justifying our schedules is an expected part of the job.

But what employee hasn't looked at the closed door of the corner office and wondered what the boss is doing all day. For all of the minute-to-minute monitoring of employee performance from the time of Henry Ford onward, it's amazing how little any of us really know about how CEOs of major companies spend their time.

"Fundamentally, it's because no one knows what a CEO should do," says Harvard Business School professor Raffaella Sadun. "Most of the time it's difficult to codify the qualities of a good manager."

“We went in with the curiosity of trying to understand the life of a CEO”

Despite that difficulty, however, it's self-evident that the way a CEO chooses to spend his or her time has much more of an effect on a company's success or failure than if a middle manager spends a half hour more at lunch. With that in mind, Sadun and three colleagues-Oriana Bandiera and Andrea Prat of the London School of Economics and Luigi Guiso of the European University Institute—set out to get to the bottom of CEO time management by following nearly 100 top managers in Italy, as reported in a recent paper with the deceptively simple title, What Do CEOs Do?

"We had no way of knowing what we were going to find," says Sadun. "We went in with the curiosity of trying to understand the life of a CEO."

But what they did discover should help CEOs learn to be more effective with their time, and provide boards with a new tool to help assess the effectiveness of their chief executives.

Under A Microscope

Of course, it's not so easy to codify all of the many actions a CEO could take during the course of a day—attending meetings, reviewing a marketing campaign, schmoozing clients on the golf course. So Sadun and her colleagues instead divided up activities with a much simpler measure of looking at the people with whom a CEO spent time.

After all, the boss is in a unique position within a firm not only to spend time with employees, but also with the outside world, making connections and gathering information. However, not all of the time the boss spends with outsiders might help the firm, especially if a CEO's and a company's interests are not aligned.

"CEOs should be working with both constituencies, insiders and outsiders," says Sadun. "However, if there are governance issues, there might be the possibility that the CEO is in the outside world more for his or her personal benefit than for the benefit of the firm."

In order to test whether this was true, the researchers enlisted 94 CEOs of major Italian corporations who agreed to put their lives under the microscope for a period of a week at a time. The CEO's personal assistant was asked to record every activity the boss engaged in that lasted at least 15 minutes.

Tabulating the data, the researchers discovered that the vast majority of a CEO's time, some 85 percent, was spent working with other people through meetings, phone calls, and public appearances, while only 15 percent was spent working alone. Of the time spent with others, chief execs spent on average 42 percent with only "insiders" (employees or directors of the CEO's firm); 25 percent with insiders and outsiders together; and 16 percent with only outsiders. (Exact numbers varied dramatically among the sample, with some CEOs spending more than 20 hours a week outside the office, while others spent almost none.)

Next, the researchers crunched a number of factors measuring company performance—for example, profits per employee—in order to see which CEOs were more productively using their time.

Better On The Inside

Their first finding, which might seem unsurprising, was that the top managers who spent more time at work were more productive than those who spent less time at work. In fact, Sadun and company found, for every 1 percent increase in hours worked, there was a 2.14 percent increase in productivity. "That's never been shown before, so that was reassuring," Sadun says.

Likewise, time spent with insiders was strongly correlated with productivity increases. For every 1 percent gain in time spent with at least one insider, productivity advanced 1.23 percent. Less reassuring, however, was that the time CEOs spent with outsiders had no measurable correlation with firm performance.

“It's a way to monitor where the efforts of the CEO are going”

In a final measure of CEO's performance, the researchers rated firms based on the quality of governance, measuring a variety of factors such as the size of the board, the presence of at least one woman on the board, ownership, whether the company was based in another country, and if so, the general level of governance in that country. Again they found a clear correlation: in companies with stronger governance, CEOs spent more time with insiders and less time with outsiders, and at the same time were more productive.

"There are some industries where a CEO really needs to be outside, so we don't need to be proscriptive, but if you were taking these results literally it would tell you that since a CEO's time is constrained, he should be mindful of the time spent with his own employees," says Sadun.

In extrapolating from the data, Sadun cautions the sample size used in the study was relatively small (though exponentially bigger than any past research on the topic), and that the results of the study (especially when it comes to the link between CEO time use and firm performance) should for the moment be interpreted as suggestive correlations rather than firm causality statements. Even so, encouraged by the results of the initial study, the group is planning to continue along this line of research by expanding the data collection in other countries (India, China, and the US) in order to increase the sample as well as to take cultural differences into account.

Sadun says that the group has received nothing but positive feedback from the anonymous CEOs who participated in the study. In keeping with the adage that "it's lonely at the top," many of the managers studied had little idea of how they could make their time more productive. Sadun hopes that the information will be equally helpful for boards in evaluating the performance of their CEOs.

"It's a way to monitor where the efforts of the CEO are going, and to get them understanding that perhaps spending too much time on the outside might not be as beneficial as they might think," she says.

If nothing else, next time employees ask the question "What is the boss doing with all of his time?" at least they'll have an answer.

About the Author

Michael Blanding is a writer based in Brookline, Massachusetts
    • Anonymous
    The CEO should be focused on keeping enough financial fuel in the corporate tank. The COO should be focused on productivity. The authors stated "Most of the time it's difficult to codify the qualities of a good manager." The CEO should function as a leader creating opportunities and not a manager solving problems. I have to wonder if the authors were using the best metrics to measure the actions of the CEOs involved.
    • Robert Liley
    • Founder and Principal, The Signal Group
    The most important thing a CEO needs to spend his or her time on (once the organization is headed in the right direction and performing effectively) is to envision where the organization needs to be five-ten years out and start planning how to get there. This isn't a time-management issue. It's a matter of focusing on the major aspects of the job.
    • Xiaomeng Shan
    • MPH candidate, Preventive Medicine Department at Stony Brook University
    In my opinion, the function of the CEO is to make effective, efficient and optimal strategic decisions and plans for the company.
    In order to make such important dicisions and plans, CEOs need a lot of time to think and analyze, but not just sit in front of the desk.
    Great CEOs never stop working, since we are thinking all day long.
    • Anonymous
    I 100% agree with the authors. This year I am heading an association as Chairman, which has made me to spent most of my time outside my office and working with outside world, industry, government and bureaucracy. I have hardly any time for my company and this has been for last 6 months. I find myself completely cut out of my own organization and even my own people have started complaining that i am not giving them time. I am feeling that i am loosing contact with my people and this article has opened my eyes that working with outside world is not productive at all and not even worth it. With my own experience, i would strongly advocate that 90% of the time CEOs should spend with their own team and the rest 10% with outside business so to keep updated what is going on around.
    • abdullah Bin Zarah
    • Executive Director, Sultan Humanitarian City
    This is a very interesting study and tackle a challenging subject. I believe there is no one answer for all questions and also we cant aplly one measure on all CEO's who have different backgrounds, style and work that differ for different industries. However results can be evident of how effective the CEO is and that can be measured not only by figures or how much time s/he spend in and out but more importantly by the cultivating work environment and the organization eagerness to improve, excel and happily evolve. Success and efficient become then self-evident.
    • Anonymous
    In my opinion, an effective CEO must understand the offer from their organisation and its market place. A successful CEO must have the vision of where the organisation is going and how stakeholders can be involved to grow the organisation.
    Once I was given a very good analogy - the CEO is like the captain of the Titanic. Whilst he has the best engineers in his engine room; best entertainers, chefs, crew to look after the customers; best ship in the world; the captain did not spot the iceberg and sank it.
    Should the CEO be looking inwards or outwards? I will let you be the judge.
    • Anonymous
    Why do we need CEOs? Every discussion on leadership has always assumed that the CEO position is a given... but no one has ever examined or talked about why these "creatures' are even necessary for an organization to function. If no one knows what a CEO does, then the question that begs to be asked is why do we need CEOs?
    • Ganesh Srinivasan
    • Management Consultant, Self Employed
    I have been at CXO level for long years with large and small / start up companies. Improved revenues at 300% for 3 years and improved bottom line all through my 33 years plus experience

    I am based in India and have sold to and supported customers from across the world

    Based on my experience, I would summarize as below

    Spend 1/3 of your time for today [operational], tomorrow [current year and upto next 3 years] and day after tomorrow [beyond 3 years]

    Activities for today are obviously spent with your internal team and supply chain and delivery chain partners

    Activities for tomorrow and day after tomorrow are spent essentially with outsiders - who are essentially future supply chain, internal chain and delivery chain partners
    • Muhammad Jibrin
    • Managing Director/ceo, SunTrust Savings & Loans Ltd
    We have to be mindful of the fact that the CEO is the face of the organisation. He is supposed to be visionary. Ensuring the company is on strategic direction. Businesses are build not by sitting down behind the desk but by creating a network of relationships within the ecosystem in which the company operates. That can only happen by spending more time outside.
    • Aditya Agarwal
    • PGDM (MBA) Participant, IIM, Indore
    I beg to disagree with comment #4. I don't think it is possible for a CEO to spend 90% of the time with his/her team and only rest of it with the outside world. It very much depends upon the nature of the work and many a times is not at all feasible. I definitely second the contention that the amount of the time passed with team improves productivity but it also depends upon the quality of the time and many a times healthy interactions with the outside world can help a CEO to bring new perspectives to his/her discussions. What I feel is that the first and foremost duty of a CEO is to set a mission and then a vision for an organization while taking in consideration all the stakeholders, value system, and the culture, evolved thus far.
    • RaviParsi
    • Senior Faculty Member, Federation of Universities
    One aspect of evaluation of CEO time, is what is the mandate given to him? If a CEO is appointed with a mandate to reinvigorate the team then he needs to spend more time with insiders. But if the CEO has a mandate of expanding the business -both existing and new - then the CEO is required to spend more time with outsiders. Similarly, in Family Businesses, professional CEOs are responsible for operations while Family will continue to take care of outside relationships which are built over time.
    • D.RAVI
    • Director - Marketing, TECHNY CHEMY
    I have had a similar experience some 5 years back when I came to this position. Since we assume a new position we tend to move around neglecting all our INSIDE jobs which is going to develop the organization and ourselves. I did the same mistake and at one point of time and I found myself drowning with other activities rather than envisioning for future growth or sustainability of the organization. The order of preferences has changed. In fact my team has almost forgotten me and they had became lazy also. A self analysis and a chat with my mentor made me rethink what I had been doing and what actually I should have done. It took me almost two years to come back to normal and poise for growth. This article is an actual fact and all CEO's must read it and to rethink on their strategies.
    • Anonymous
    The number of CEOs spending vast amount amounts of time tending to growing their personal wealth in investments, private companies is increasing alarmingly. The annual general meetings of companies should tranform from 2-3 hours ceremoney to 1-2 days deep interactions with CEO and his team. Proper goverance has to be set up to review all internal systems.
    • Dr. G S Singh
    • Hon. Professor, Guru Nanak Dev University
    Its a very important research initiative. All praise to the authors. Any company striving to make its mark has to have serious Vision and Mission. The organization's purpose or reason for being is the vision and CEO will have the main responsibility to propel. This may not be measeurable in the short term but is a DNA of the company and hence off fundamental importance. And Mission part, what the organization does and how, is the measurable part, requiring CEO to lead and guide his work force. What percentage of time a CEO spends out of office and what percentage with his own mangers and staff and what percentage with insiders and outsiders together will be, in my opinion, governed by vision and mission details of the company. It may be a good idea to link the data with vision and mission and see the outcome.
    • Bob Kelley
    • CEO, ABL Organization
    In my opinion, this is useful research for provoking further discussion along these lines with larger samples. Most new CEOs, especially ones appointed from outside the company, are typically ill prepared to initially make effective allocations. Those who survive their first year usually do so because they are astute observers, questioners, analysts and have a deep understanding of appropriate general management Key Success Factors. The survivors typically shape direction, collaboration and supporting operational & cultural factors to get effective near term results as well as commitment to initiatives to ensure continued profitable growth.

    This type of research, to be increasingly useful, will need to identify and categorize the types of companies researched by stage in the life cycle of both the company and the CEOs tenure as well as identifying relevant business tsunami situations.

    Perhaps it could also delve into the kinds of indicators the more perceptive and experienced CEOs use in shaping their calendars. Certainly, the quality and scope of operational and contextual information available internally to the CEO will shape how and when they personally proceed to gather information first hand. The quality of their management team is another. When the incumbent management team is stellar, and then when it is generally incompetent, are situations requiring significantly different requirements are on how the CEO's calendar might shape up, especially if the CEO is new to the industry and the job.

    Let me share a few other observations that may be useful in categorizing situations for CEOs in the process of shaping their calendars.

    I work with over a hundred CEOs, directly and indirectly, and in the US, they just about all changed their calendars dramatically in November 2008 as financial liquidity tsunami began drying up, and most companies cut expenditure dramatically.

    My business dealings are principally with technology companies and healthcare firms. Critical external issues for CEOs in these two industries are very different. Today US healthcare CEOs face special calendar shaping challenges in light of the uncertainties associated with extensive new regulations for the near term future which are also being aggressively challenged the in the courts and by a political party determined to upend various aspects of them. 1993, when Hillarycare seemed a significant possibility, was a somewhat similar time for US health care.

    Dealing with less severe externalities, successful CEOs shape their time management substantially differently when they are running multi billion dollar publicly held enterprises and when they are running hundred million dollar revenue privately held companies. An early stage venture backed company has very different time allocation issues for the CEO than when they are entrepreneurially bootstrapping a company.

    Lastly, Michael Porter and another author recently wrote about beginning to create Corporate Social Value for a company. Launching this kind of initiative could easily be very time consuming for a CEO, especially to ensure it delivers on its promises. In the first place, in my experience, most board members don't really understand how critical such an initiative might be to "ensure profitability" in many increasingly regulated industries, as well as industries threatened with potential regulation because of the negative image of "business" in this country at this time. (Just look at some of the responses this article attracted.) In my experience, CEOs of major corporations who launch initiatives of this sort without board support use up a lot of the kind of "board capital" that can later reduce the time required in selling other initiatives. This low board capital situation can also provide the opportunity to conduct a new job search, out of urg
    ent necessity.

    I look forward to following your continuing research in this important area.
    • Anonymous
    Interesting comments and true. AS the CEO to think you need to fuel your thinking with status of reality and know what to beleive and know how to filter out what is being given to you as CEO. When the CEO spends more time outside his "ship" who is he leading or should he send scouts and only appear out there strategically. It is clear that improvements are on time spent with the team, to make them focus on strategies and to give them direction to targets.
    • Pankaj Sahai
    • Author, Smooth Ride To Venture Capital
    What the CEO does depends on the STAGE OF GROWTH of the business that he is heading. In the early stage of of business the CEO spends a lot of time in the operational aspects of business, while the during the expansion and mature stages, the time spent outside the business increases dramatically as the CEO endeavours to capture all available market opportunities.

    However, whatever the stage of business, two activities, both outside, that always fall in the lap of the CEO are :
    1. Networking; and
    2. Fund raising

    What percentage of the CEO's time these take would depend on the stage of growth and the state of internal organisation of the business.
    • Lemun Nuhu YAtu
    • Business Development Executive, Ansi-Global Links
    Most individual at that level tend to occupy their minds with other issues outside the business environment, thinking of either retirement plan or next phase of their lives, as such they relate more with the ouside world in trying to fill the empty space or vacuum created by cravings and needs which are personal and beyound what the company can do to them. It is my considered opinion that the outcome of this research substantiates the fact that CEOs trive predominantly only on the sweat of their immediate subordinates along side other emplyees who are the foot soldiers of the company. I would say that, very closely link to this research outcome is CEOs from developing democarcies. They tend to be more involved with ouside politics under the guise of getting the government or public policies to favour their operations, very often at the expense of the very business and the employees under their auspices. "More of Outside politi
    cs than the Board room politics".
    • Anonymous
    International Corporate Consultant - focus Leadership/Sales Excellence

    working with CEOs for some time I have noticed a direct correlation between the organisation's performance and the lack of thinking time expended by the CEO. Ditto with the CEO spending too much time doing or monitoring other employees' roles. It is clear that this becomes a perpetual loop and usually ends in exit by the CEO. As mentioned above it is not usually a measurement of where the doing or thinking is being undertaken but if and how.
    • vaishali
    • assistant professor, H K P
    According to my view the CEO have to focus more on the opporunities avialable to them and the ways they shoule teke this opporunitites to compete for that they should have to take the strategic decitions.
    • Anonymous
    All organisations are different and at different stages within their markets and development, therefore the demands of a CEO will differ. The one key task that is common however, is to galvanise a clear direction for the company and to create the culture that will deliver it. The difficulty in where this can go wrong is when CEO's are provided massive salaries, with only short terms financial targets to hit such as increasing shareholder value, which is usually done by lowering expenses in the short term ie cut staff.
    • Anonymous
    We need more detail here. Alex Haslam's recent edited text talks of 'in-group' and 'out-group' leaders and their respective characteristics. What qualifies as an insider and/or outsider in the current work? In my work I am seeing increasing numbers of external appointments to senior positions, but all drawn from the same outside organisation. They seem to spend their days talking to one another, while actively avoiding talking to insiders who know the organisation and the parts of it that are working very well. This choice, in Haslam's terms is a recipe for, at best, mediocre performance.
    • Govind Gadiyar
    Job of a CEO is to teach. He needs to share his passion and vision with each and every stake holder he meets. Rest of falls in its place.
    • R.Viswanathan
    • SVP, Genus
    I agree CEOs should be spending more quality time with insiders particularly with those who are not performing as well within the organisation. In any case for internal meetings, there should be set time limit as I have seen meetings drags on for considerable time without producing effective conclusion thereby resulting (considerable) valuable time loss for the CEO for which CEO alone is responsible. CEO external meetings should be for updating self with industry trends, detect opportunites and sometimes managing much needed funds to meet the immediate requirement of the organisation due to possible cash flow issues.
    • Mervyn Extavour
    • Director, Accreditation Council of T&T
    What about Execjutive Directors or CEO's who are employed through the Government Agency or Ministry, and have some measure of responsibility to reespond to the line Minister?
    To what degree can he/she operate independently and seek to move the organization forward and maintain the executive flavor of the position.
    There needs to be distinction between those in the private sector, as against those in the public domain.
    • Al R Ireton
    • Chm/CEO, Manchester Partners Ltd
    Time invested with currant and future customers provides the insight a CEO requires to focus the company resources (financial, human & capital). Time allocated for riding side saddle with the salesmen and living the life of a customer will also contribute to a better understanding of what is required to point the company in the right direction and confirm its competitive advantage.
    • Mike MacDonald
    It is very easy for a CEO to become trapped in the corporate headquarters office. Rather than spend time with and listen to employees who are far away from customers and where the product or service is delivered, CEO's need to be in the presence of customers on a regular basis: not only to thank them for their business but to find out what they like/don't like about the product or service and about trends in their business. CEO's need to spend time with front line employees to thank them and support them. They are the face of the company! If a CEO practices MBWA they won't need to be the next "Undercover Boss". Academics tend to make leading a company more complex and scientific than it is...
    • Brig S Agarwal, SM**
    • President, Services Selection Board, Govt of India
    The comments above are relevant from the respective standpoint of their writers. The Situational theory of leadership is best suited in this context.

    A CEO has to (a) visualize and (b) actualize. The former would involve a better understanding and pulse of the external environment and would necessitate time spent 'externally". The latter involves helping subordinates set up the guide map (time spent internally) and then delegation.
    • Anonymous
    This is a very interesting study. I wonder what we will find if the study is done with say CEOs of Fortune 500, China's Top 500, India's Top 500 and cluster the respondents by industry. May be we can gain some insights that aspiring leaders can learn from given the dynamics of each industry as well as the culture of the countries. Any attempt to understand our leaders is a move towards improving our lives.
    • Ravindran Kanningat
    • Faculty - Business Studies, Edgewater College
    It's indeed an interesting topic, and a rare insight into a CEO's functions. To me, the time allocation will depend on what an organization set out to achieve and at what life cycle stage the firm engaged in. CEO has to balance his time within and outside as he is the face of the organization. He can choose to spend less time with insiders if he is a CEO evolved within the industry or rather within the firm, the balance time can be effectively used with outsiders to improve the market image and productivity. Therefore the effectiveness of a CEO and improved productivity will depend on the time that he spend with the public at large to know the pulse better without compromising time with insiders.
    • karma lhagyel
    • manager
    I wonder if the authors took the degree of delegations and style of working into account. That might make a difference in the research
    • Stephen Melanson
    • President, Melanson Consulting
    The most critical role of a CEO is to create simplicity around all strategic efforts.

    If a business strategy is to be viewed as mission critical, it has to be simplified enough for everyone to understand, talk about, and exectute, or - with no pun intended - it simply won't work.
    • Frank
    • Feather, CEO, Geo-Strategies
    What about all the time which a CEO spends which is *not* of a 15-minute duration?

    A 30-second phone call can be far more valuable than a 30-minute meeting, whether inside or outside the organization.

    It is quality of time invested that matters, not so much for how long, or where it is invested.

    This study ignores such factors, and is too broad brush and simplistic to be of much value, in my opinion.

    Plus, simply having an Admin Asst record the time in a log says nothing about what really transpired in the time blocks.

    So to then try to equate that against company performance is irrelevant.
    • Pavan
    • Muzumdar, Pieris Capital
    How a CEO spends his or her time is substantially a function of the kind of company, the stage in which it is, and the burning questions of the day.

    For example, the CEO of a PR firm would have vastly different activities than the CEO of a high-volume tier 1 manufacturer in the automotive space. Similarly the CEO of a mature company looking for acquisitions will not be spending the same amount of time on activities on which the CEO of a growing company does.

    Also, the sample of CEOs itself might have substantial diversity in cognitive and other skills. What's good for one CEO might not be good for another. The study doesn't identify this and taking group averages and using standard statistical techniques in heterogeneous samples could be of little value and potentially misleading.

    I also didn't see any corrections for the organizational structure, depth of management team, etc. either. One could argue that the presence of a COO could have a significant impact on the internal/external allocations.

    Having said that, this is still an interesting study and continued research in this area could provide valuable insight into drivers of value and productivity.
    • Anonymous
    This is very interesting, but I wonder what REAL results you would get if the CEO didn't know they were being tracked?
    • Annie Nonnimus
    • Pawn/Flunkie
    I work in an organization where the CEO/Founder's pet project is sinking the company. Millions of dollars of resources and cash (as well as the CEO/Founder's own $$) are poured into a product which, while innovative and need meeting (in the big picture), has yet to create the market in which it needs to sell. His control over the department seems to stifle any innovation beyond his idea (which he began working on 5 years ago), and he's been hesitant to embrace elements of strategy which would lead to opening up the market for the product (i.e. Social Media). He hired a "yes" man to run the department who is the "nice guy" that the CEO is not, who takes any constructive criticism of things/processes he's created completely personally - so much so that innovators and leaders on his team no longer want to go to him with ideas that would increase the bottom line. i.e.: a colleague of mine made a contact with some
    one who could have increased the product/license sales 1000% but the dept. leader would have provide an example of the product--something he had provided to another lead 12-15 months ago, and went nowhere. Based on the first experience the CEO said let's not do this any more, therefore the Dept leader chose not to take the risk. The Company as a whole looks at the dept. in question with disdain and jealousy (think Joseph & the Technicolor Dreamcoat) though in this case the dept. is in danger of making the company "bleed out." Yes, i put this anonymously, but i feel a lot better just typing it out. A.N.
    • Dennis Thurman
    • CEO, Biz-Align Strategies and Consulting
    Before my time in the business consulting arena I was a CEO of a manufacturing company. It is lonely at the top . . . I read the article and all of the comments with great interest. The truth is that many of the claims in the article are surprising and must certainly apply to the situation of each company and CEO at the time. However, the time frame and method of study is clearly too short and simplified to be meaningful.

    For instance the CEOs that were spending lots of outside time may have been setting in motion strategies and arrangements which may take months or years to be fruitful, whereas the CEOs spending much time inside may have spent time outside a few months or years earlier which created the profits / productivity being measured during the collection of the data.

    I like the idea of this study, but time and how it is spent is in question and the flaw is that company performance is more of a motion picture than it is a snapshot.
    • Mary Dillman
    I am a strong advocate of the distinguishing leadership qualities identified by Jim Collins in his book "Good to Great" - "disciplined people", "first who, ...then what". So, the researchers' approach to study "with whom" the CEO spends his/her time resonated with me.

    I would have liked to have seen a deeper probing into the "what" after the study identified the major categories of "who". Some of the troubling findings for me - 1) of the time spent with outsiders, CEOs spent most of that time with consultants; where is the contact and engagement with customers? 2) of the time spent with insiders, the time spent with people involved with Strategy was the second lowest category. I concur with Ganesh (comment #8) - two-thirds of the CEO's time should be spent on near-term and long-term strategic planning and implementation.
    • Rahul Pandit
    • President & COO, The Lemon Tree Hotel Company
    My personal framework for time allocation:

    1. Future: 40% time steering the organization to future opportunities, mentoring future leadership
    2. Present: 30% time in tactical, day to day biz decisions to improve current performance
    3. Past: 10% time in analysis and review

    Invest 20% time in self-reflection, planning and thinking.
    • Anonymous
    Actually bodies which operate outside the organisation usually try to have negotiations with top level management and thats why CEO spend more time with them.
    This problem can be solved by Delegation of Authority to middle level management or Managers,so that they can handle the different issues with outside parties.Then only CEO will be able to spend more time with the people inside the organisation.
    The task is more closely headed by PR Departments but important issues related to government could not be handled by them.
    • Janaki Pendyala
    • CEO, NetAdwise Solutions
    Very Interesting white paper. Congrats to Sadun and team.

    I manage a very small proprietary limited firm. I feel there is a fundamental difference in how a CEO spends his/her managerial time in proprietary limited vs. public limited. For the simple reason that in proprietary limited, the boss is has more ownership and is seen more responsible. Whereas, when a public limited CEO's interests might not align with his company's interests, his managerial time is spent more outside the company than inside.

    • Anonymous
    Very interesting study. More work along these lines will help.

    If many more cases are studied, I wonder if different patterns will emerge for different sizes and stages of organizations. I can easily see how CEO can help small or start up firms become more productive.

    Very large organizations, or very mature organizations - will inputs from the CEO matter quite as much?

    Productivity is often a function of expertise and skills. Large established firms have a wealth of internal expertise, often well beyond that of the CEO. They also have the resources to integrate these deep skills in productive ways. There the CEO can probably help more in terms of leadership development, and of course this is valuable.
    • Ronald
    • CEO, BrazilStateRoyalProperties
    How a CEO expends his/her time is a very contradictory subject. In Brazil where it has the Best CEO's in the World have a very interesting reason. Here we used to have an unsure or fluctuated economy, changing the rules of the game frequently.
    Our politics were and still are very corrupted, which leads the legislation to a predisposition to overcharge the companies with laws and rules very difficult to follow making the CEO's brain to swallow in order to find solutions and new ways where many could feel desperate.
    In fact, the most difficult experiences support and keep the leader refreshed with thousands of ideas that come from every direction, even outside the company.
    For this reason I think that the authors of this study should apply or extent the time of the feedback from the companies and CEO's report since its can vary enourmously during a longer period of time.
    • Todd
    • Head of Middle School, The Pennington School
    While my position as the Head of a Independent Middle School appears to have little in common with a CEO, I know that the more time I spend with my teachers engaged in dialog about their work connects to my/the school's vision, the more productive they are and the more sustainable the positive energy becomes. This article is a great reminder of that fact.
    • Stephen Wandera
    • Managing Director, British-American Insurance Co. (Kenya) Ltd
    Strong governance is a must so that the agency problem is minimised and striving to achieve planned results becomes the focus and credo of the company. Today's competitive environment means that an organisation can only thrive through continuous transformation. A CEO together with his Board should therefore share the passion and capacity for visionary strategy and strategic implementation. An inadequate Board will impair the effort. As the champion of change and sustainable growth the CEO should be continually engaged with driving both operational and change issues with his staff, listening to customers, collaborating with existing and potential business partners. The cycle of change will inform the extent to which the internal and learning perspectives have to be leveraged to in turn create a new dimension for existing and new customers that sustainably grows the bottom line. It is therefore quite conceivable that an internal emph
    asis supported by activities with outsiders results in higher productivity. Activities with outsiders are vital and cannot be excluded from the equation. The research requires to go deeper.
    • Don Miskell
    • Managing Director, Boffa Miskell
    Were any of the CEOs under the microscope from Professional Service Firms (PSFs) ?
    • Walt Sutton
    • Ex CEO, Author, CEO Advisor, W. G. Sutton International Ltd.
    Your research is intriguing, recording what CEO's actually do is insightful, and the early findings of this work as presented in the article are very interesting. Better yet look at the breath and depth of comments this article has stimulated, to me that is most interesting (and telling). This work has great promise.

    When you start a CEO assignment, the only resources you have are Time and Influence... and one or two shots of limited positional power, that's it. The uses of these resources, the direction, intellectual and emotional content, the methods of applying them to the many centers of demand for these resources in a business vary almost exponentially based on the type of business, the stage of the business, the way it is financed, the types of stakeholders, the strengths and weaknesses of the CEO. This is not to say the CEO job is not worth studying, it is to say that you can generalize yourself out of getting useful information. Research is good, especially research that focuses on what really happens to people doing this job as opposed to how others think they doing the job. We are talking about CEO behavior, doing stuff, making decision about what to do, so need to appreciate the autodidactic nature of the CEO experience.

    Put 15 active CEO's at a conference table, give each a piece of paper and a pencil then give them two minutes to write an eight word (or less) job description for themselves AS CEO, with no help from others. Then have each CEO share their newly minted summary with the group and get ready for laughter and loud conversation. I've lead this simple activity many times and am still surprised, along with the participants about how different their summarized job descriptions are. Yet it confirms my own experience (23 years as a CEO of four different companies), because were I a participant in an eight word contest I would have written different things at different times, and laughed along with others at parts of my own list. Of course, the CEO's themselves don't always interpret their world or actions clearly, hence your research. You can observe (more objectively) and help interpret, good science.

    My hope is you can you sift through this continuing research to produce strong findings. In doing so I suggest staying with the granularity, measure success in business and community terms. See if there is support in the research that will illuminate methods to give a CEO a menu from which he/she can choose and consider how to best augment what is for most of us a singular autodidactic journey... the life of a successful CEO, using his/her time and influence as successful leader of a commercial community.

    So, again, look at the comments your've stimulated with this article. If you look at the CEO journey as an autodidactic experience, and if you can help CEO's (or their boards or investors or their stakeholders) find ways to help, encourage, judge the actions of a successful CEO, well then you have something.

    Nice work and thanks for the article. You clearly have struck a chord.


    Walt Sutton
    Ex CEO (23 Years, Four Business)
    CEO Advisor (15 years)
    Author "Leap of Strength"
    Good efforts! But the research is extrinsic and on intrinsic side. Definitely it(time spent) has impact on productivity but much lesser then the qualitative approach. Need not to mention that you would find the noticable difference with countries having different Political/ Cultural setup.
    • Abhishek Kumar
    • Sr. Solutions Integrator, Ericsson
    Productivity (One aspect of growth) is not the best criteria to testify the CEO's approach towards company.
    Productivity may keep you moving but can't make you the leader in market.
    CEO should posses the quality of a leader not of a manager, he should generate motivation by creating more opportunities that is only possible by spending time on outside relations and influences.
    A best leader needs to have good mix of time spent on productivity and creation of new opportunities.
    This mix of time should be forecasted on the basis of company's curent position.If the company is market leader then CEO needs to focus on sustanibility (productivity) and if the company is growing at constant rate then CEO must focus on new opportunity creation to be the market leader.
    • Brad
    • CEO, Marich
    A mentor told me that the job of CEO is to ensure that anyone that works with the entity from clients to suppliers to employees, shareholders et al grow and advance and are better off as a result of their effort.

    Adding to that, the job is to lead from your core, set the pace, communicate the values and vision an direction, be the CBO (Chief Brand Officer) in the marketplace, drive continuous improvement and ensure that there are sufficient resources, apportioned to the most beneficial and aligned activities
    • Paulo Wilson Rodrigues
    • Founder, EEL - USP
    The Ceo must see the forecoming of his enterprise actions. So it is the brand progress in the market what really matters, the time is always short so expend it where it really makes the difference and this is simple to say but very hard to implement.
    • Anonymous
    Under the microscope scanning by subordinates for CEOs it appears positive thinking towards the organisation. However to the oppportunities and responsibilities given by CEO is with positive attitude
    • Adrian Matadeen
    • Group Managing Director, www.fatzgroup.com
    This question as to what exact it is I do and how I can do it better , is best crystallized by how I go about earning what I am worth. By following the deeds I do to accomplish my earning and by learning to change , hopefully I can increase my earning power by changing the top and bottom line results of the organization that I have de facto control and final executive decision making authority.
    Now having said,that it is a proven fact absolute power corrupts absolutely , I have an executive chairman and a board of directors to hold my feet to the fire , and whose policy it is for me to express in the actions and culture of the people talent within and without the organization and this goes for branding of the goods and services we provide.

    Personal speaking , I see myself as the moral compass of the entire team , my actions and choices reflect my value system and global perspective of my universe , and this resonates through the people I affect directly and indirectly. Hence it is incumbent for me to be relevant and effective in delivering revenue , styming waste, demonstrating employment of board directives and mandates , deliver to our shareholders who I ultimately work for that I am creating a higher value return on their equity in our organization within the risk reward parameters of the industry, keep ourselves compliant to existent laws and remain a legal moral captain of this organization. Thank you
    Adrian Matadeen
    Group Managing Director
    Fatz Express Packaging Services Limited
    • Anonymous
    I am afraid the authors of this study, while noting that their findings are not prescriptive, have neverthless suggested an interpretation that is inconclusive at best, and potentially harmful at worst. As other commenters have also noted, I hold quite strongly the belief that what a CEO does is dictated primarily by a set of factors that are unique to the present challenges of the organization s/he leads, the industry it operates in, her / his personal working and delegation style, personality, and the strengths and composition of his top team. If the suggestion is being made that linkages be drawn between company performance, CEO's personal integrity, and the time spent outside the organization, it would be entire unfair to many organizations and individuals who lead them. When managing the environment is more critical and more complex than managing the people and internal processes, the CEOs would of course need to spend more ti
    me with outsiders. For testing predictability of a potential CEO's performance, or indeed, potential integrity pitfalls, I would think that Boards should look elsewhere, beyond data on the extent which the CEO candidate spends time with insiders or outsiders.
    • Joseph K Batume
    • CEO, BatGroup - Uganda
    Thanks a lot for tackling such a great topic. In my opinion, a good CEO must balance his/her time between strategic development and implementation, liaising with his BOD for growth policies and more importantly interacting with his staffs with a view of maximizing their potential. Research should also be a big priority for the CEO.
    • Sairam Sekar
    • Project Engineer, Wipro
    I believe the CEO must see beyond what the inner organization sees. He is like the eagle taking care of his organization below and looking straight against the challenging path ahead. He should guide his organization to its rightful destination. So a one eye outward and one eye within will be the balancing trick to win the game.

    To understand your challenger and your self will help you evaluate the outcome.
    • Dan D'Mello
    Very Informative, In total practicality a CEO's job is to be a link. To interface between the business and its support structure and also to maintain a proper balance of delegation of authority and responsibility to his subordinates.
    • Amanda Hickman
    • Partner, Insight Experience
    Time spent, as noted by many of the comments, is only part of the equation of leadership. I'm deighted to see a correlation between leadership time internally and productivity, but I suspect there is a large curve of variation driven by the messages and content communicated during that time spent working with others inside the business. In my experience, highly effective leaders use daily interactions as a way to powerful way to reiterate the strategy and direction of the business. It's both the time invested but what you do with that time that matters as a leader.
    • Sidharth Khandelwal
    • Manager
    I think this is an excellent study and depending on an individual strategy, the team he has and the stage of the business in its life cycle are some of the facotrs to consider.
    If I was asked to do so as a CEO, I would prefer to spend 20% of the time with insider's to ensure a strong governance and evaluate performance and remaining 80% with outsiders to set the stage for future.
    • Donal Jackson
    • owner director, lightwell
    The CEO of a private company has one thing in common with the CEO of a public company,,, Healthy Greed. One for profit margins and the other for future buy out opportunity. This is the reality that matters. All the talk on anything else is futile. These two CEO types get it done.
    • Jorge L. Lopez
    • President, LEXCO
    I strongly believe that there is a correlation between the time a CEO spend with insiders and company productivity, but there is always a risk that must be weighted in; if the CEO spent too much time with insiders, he/she will inevitable loose the outside perspective. It can a trap.

    The CEO is the visionary, the driver, the pusher of the whole group or company. It's supposed to be the leader. So, people needs to feel him/her reachable, but also employees need to feel confident that he/she is envisioning what the company needs now and in the future, in order to feel safe working for him/her.
    • Ramesh Vemuganti
    • CEO, Chanakya Consulting
    In Management, the role,responsibilities & position of a CEO is one of the least understood, akin to understanding of HR. How mush time he or she has to spend with insiders & outsiders is related to the state of affairs in the organization -- whether the company is in red or making huge profits or just breaking even .

    The primary focus of a CEO must be to groom & develop few senior managers -- 3 ,4 or 10 -- delegate the functions,areas,depts,divisions, put in proper checkpoints for monitoring & move on. A CEO must be more outward looking than inward oriented.

    I worked with several IT hardware & networking companies as a Sales professional . While coming from a management background, I used to indicate & tell them to spend time with - difficult Customers, major Accounts, new customers,prospects,big vendors,bankers,investors,senior people in the organization. They did not listen & were obsessed with the daily operations & typical manager's mindset of micromanageing people - result is they have decimated organizations,which were on a high growth path.
    • Paul Bradley
    • President, ROC USA, LLC
    I often ask myself, "what is the most important thing I can do right now?" When I'm tired, it's "how can I work smarter, not harder?"

    In my experience, my best return on investment both internally and externally is to share my passion and vision for our mission.

    Internally especially but often times externally, too, my ability to make direct connections between an individual's or group's work and our shared mission - helping people "see" how their work really matters and is proving successful - is vital to motivating people and encouraging innovation and collaboration.

    Everyone wants meaning in their lives. My smart moments usually involve making our company, and people's contributions to it, meaningful. That's a good investment of time.
    • Sam Chandar
    • CEO, GO India
    The true leader has 3 roles. The first is Servant. He serves the organization, the stakeholders, the community selflessly and sacrificially. The second is Steward. To ensure that all resources entrusted are put to the best use to yield the highest returns. The third is Shepherd. To move forward and make a way in which the organization can follow. By combining the elements of heart, head and hand, the leader can truly lead authenticity and credibility.
    • Richh
    • Chartered Manager, Ricch & Associates
    A professional/learned CEO's one hour can be more productive than a day-dreaming GM's one year......leh
    • Sachin Sharma
    • Project Engr
    One of the most important thing which the CEO miss in this global economy is knowing their customer. With the mega enterprises being formed / taken over almost every day. Focus of most CEO is towards adding / expanding theri companies. Sustainability which is a key need of future is lagging behing the agenda for the most of the CEOs.

    In simple words its time to go back to the time when CEOs started their carrier and think about each what they have done in each Job levels ? What could be done better in each job level to sustain growth of their enterprises with minimal risk.
    • Lynn McVey
    • Hospital CEO, Meadowlands Hospital
    As an "evidence-based" versus traditional manager, I've assigned performance metrics to each leader including myself. "What Does a CEO do?" is something I've asked for years prior to becoming one. Before I was a VP, I wondered why a VP wasn't a department manager in addition? When our Directors are high performers, why do we need a COO? I think this article shines light on our current organizational structure. Do we really need multiple levels in between staff and management? And do we really need ALL those C-suiters? I'm happy to read this inquiry into improving productivity for our most expensive employees. .