The Inbox Test – a measure of executive bench strength!

For the first time since I got my first cell phone and email account two decades ago, I went away for a week to a destination where (even if I really really wanted it), there was no cell signal for kilometres!

Initially, the mere thought of being so completely disconnected made me quite edgy and, as time drew closer and closer to the trip, I found myself feeling decidedly panicky.

Mostly because…well…I’d NEVER been so out of touch from the office, ever. Not when I have travelled for work, not when I have taken vacations, and not even when I gave birth to my babies. Throughout the year, no matter where I am or what I’m doing, I’m available and accessible for any work-related issue.

Which has proven to be a bit of a stumbling block in assessing the bench strength of my team and whether they are able to operate successfully and cohesively without my presence (physical or digital).

For many founder entrepreneurs (like me), as well as many corporate executives and managers, a measure of successful delegation and true team empowerment is whether one’s direct reports can execute on their strategies, and work their plans without relying on their manager as the ultimate safety net…for a period, at least.

The thing is…how on earth do you test this if you’re ‘always on’?

Well, I discovered that a trip to a no-signal destination was a great way to do this. One key factor was having someone clearing my email…deleting the junk, and forwarding important emails to relevant people in the team to address. Then, I went ‘properly’ away….

A week later, I returned to find that I had only seven relatively important emails in my inbox, that pertained to matters that only I could attend to. None were urgent. Everything else had been sorted out by others, or sent to the trash.

This was quite a revelation. And a liberation!

My main insights from the ‘Inbox Test’ are:
– I get a lot of rubbish in my inbox (there had been in excess of 600 incoming emails during the week)
– My team is sufficiently competent to handle almost all external requests and queries (hooray, brilliant bench strength!)
– I gained clarity on the areas of my business where the institutional knowledge still resides with me. And my choices here are to retain these, or to figure out how to impart this information to others.

Damn fine insights and learnings.

And definitely worth a try, if you can stomach it!

Debbie Goodman-Bhyat

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