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Thinking and Acting Strategically Is Important and More Urgent Than You Think

Why is it that so many company’s don’t plan adequately for the future?  Is it because it’s too hard to predict, so why bother?  Confronting the future can be scary because it requires us to choose a strategy and make decisions and choices. What if we make the wrong choices? Leadership may not be up to the task to take on that level of uncertainty.

Or perhaps we believe being a fast follower is a less riskier way to compete. Be fast and nimble, and jump  in once the market becomes clear and “out compete” the early pioneers. After all, it’s a lot easier to launch a product in a proven growth market, than to try and create a new market from scratch. Assuming of course, we can out gun pioneers who just might have better guns than yours.

Or perhaps we feel we don’t have the resources to execute future strategies. There is plenty room for improvement with our current business model. We will achieve the growth we want if we execute the current business model flawlessly. And making our “street numbers” is the top priority. After all, Wall Street doesn’t measure us on the future, it measures us on the here and now. So the thinking goes.

To some extent, all these beliefs have some truth to it. But nothing last forever, especially these days where competitors from outside your traditional industry appear seemingly overnight with a disruptive solution. The graveyard is full of “market leaders” who fell victim to innovation from someone else rather than themselves.

Strategy is important but not urgent

No matter what approach you use to “create” your future, it’s important you make it a priority. The best way to deal with innovation and constant change is to embrace it and make it part of your corporate DNA. But because it’s deals with the future, and not the here in now, it doesn’t get the attention it should. After all, there are real activities we need to address now, like meeting our launch date and making our numbers. If we miss these, there ain’t no tomorrow.

Unfortunately, tomorrow will come with or without us. And it will bring new competitors, new playing fields and new sets of rules that will make our current business models irrelevant. So don’t get fooled by the sense of “lack of urgency.”  Creating your future is important if you plan to be a player in the future.

Adopt a Corporate Time Management System

Like individuals, corporations and product development teams face an endless stream of “to-do’s” and task.  If we don’t have a system to prioritize and manage our activities, we are likely to become overwhelmed and spending too much time and energy on activities that don’t add value. And not enough on activities that add value and builds a foundation for long-term longevity.

Borrowing from Stephen Covey’s Four Quadrants of Time Management, most likely we are spending the majority of our time in Quadrant I – Important & Urgent.

Activities include meeting critical milestones like product launches, addressing customer issues and production issues (which may be caused by poor upfront  planning and preparation), and making our quarterly numbers. Firefighting also falls into quadrant I – and firefighting is a form of waste we should eliminate through process improvements.

Covey's Time Managment Quadrants

Figure 1: Organizational Time Management Using Covey’s Four Quadrants

Chances are we are not spending enough time in Quadrant II – Important but not Urgent.  Activities we should be doing include strategic planning and market sensing. Getting upfront customer insights using methods like Jobs-To-Be-Done innovation framework. Getting documentation done, and planning and implementing process improvements.

Quadrant III is where the urgent but not important matters lie. Some phone calls, meetings, last minute appointments that seem urgent but are actually not important. Creating management reports no one reads, etc.

And last and hopefully least: Quadrant IV,  are where the frivolous not urgent and not important stuff is. Surfing the web, social media updates with friends and family. All those things we do to avoid getting important things done.

The secret to good time management and effective prioritization is simple

Make sure you spend most of your time in Quadrant II. Quadrant II deals with things that are important but not urgent, such as market sensing and strategic planning. You not only eliminate waste, but you also build a strong foundation for a future where you can compete to win.

Dr. Covey says that if you live in Quadrant II, “Your effectiveness would increase dramatically. Your crises and problems would shrink to manageable proportions because you would be thinking ahead, working on the roots”

So know where your organization is spending its time, and focus more of your efforts in Quadrant II.


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