Survey Shows Executives Spend One-Third of Their Time Putting Out Office 'Fires'

Jul 20, 2005

MENLO PARK, CA -- Keeping a cool head in a crisis is a must-have skill for managers, a new survey of advertising and marketing executives suggests.  According to those polled, one-third (33 percent) of an executive’s time is spent responding to crises or problems.  While troubleshooting for 20 minutes of every hour may seem extreme, that figure is down from a 2001 poll, in which respondents said 43 percent of an executive’s time is spent addressing critical matters.

The survey was developed by The Creative Group, a specialized staffing service that provides marketing, advertising, creative and web professionals on a project basis.  It was conducted by an independent research firm and includes 250 responses -- 125 from advertising executives with the nation’s 1,000 largest advertising agencies and 125 from senior marketing executives with the nation’s 1,000 largest companies.   

Advertising and marketing executives were asked, “In your opinion, what percentage of his or her time does the average executive spend responding to crises or problems?”  The mean response was 33 percent.  In 2001, the mean response was 43 percent.

“The buck typically stops with a company’s executives, who must make difficult decisions daily,” said Tracey Fuller, executive director of The Creative Group.  “It’s common for senior-level advertising and marketing professionals to juggle multiple time-sensitive projects while also responding to company crises.”

Fuller noted that an increasingly stable economy, coupled with improved leadership, could account for the reduced amount of time spent responding to urgent situations now versus in 2001.  “Businesses are feeling more confident and have additional resources to devote to initiatives, which can make a manager’s job less stressful.  Today’s executives also may have more experience than their 2001 counterparts, many of whom rose up the ranks very quickly during the dot-com boom and may not then have known how to prevent minor issues from escalating.”

According to Fuller, nipping problems in the bud is the key to reducing time spent in crisis mode.  She offered these tips:

  • Don’t shoot the messenger Nobody wants to be the bearer of bad news.   Encourage employees to approach you with problems by maintaining your composure, thanking them for bringing items to your attention and working with them to identify solutions.
  • Lead by example Glossing over errors promotes a cover-up culture.  Admit your mistakes and discuss the measures you are taking to correct them.  Letting staff know when you’ve made a decision you regret encourages them to be up-front, too.
  • Give them leverage.  Provide employees enough autonomy to troubleshoot client and customer service issues and reward them for doing so successfully.
  • Use a patch kit.  If you don’t know the best response to a situation right away, take interim steps to mitigate the problem while you consider a long-term solution.
  • Speak up Don’t wait for an employee’s annual review to discuss performance problems; say something sooner rather than later.  Likewise, concerns about a vendor’s services should be addressed swiftly to prevent issues from recurring.  

The Creative Group has offices in major markets across the United States and in Canada, and offers online job search services at

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