Sit back and imagine yourself sitting on a beach looking into the vastness of the ocean. It seems as if the earth continues forever while you watch the sun slowly dip into the violet horizon. As you look at the beauty before you, your thoughts become clear and you forget about all of your tedious daily tasks. Instead your mind shifts toward bigger thoughts.
I see it happen all too often – business owners who become stuck in the short-term find themselves in the midst of a crisis that could have been easily avoided. They spend more time as firemen than they do as leaders. These crises vary from rather simple to severe, but all of them have a common thread. Just a little planning, some business forecasting, could have averted the crises and avoided what can escalate into full-blown emergencies. Here are two examples:
- One business owner, whose business depends on a small number of big companies, was concerned about the potential impact on her business if one of her clients experienced a downturn. So, we sat down together and crafted a plan to diversify her customer base and reduce her dependence on single clients. Unfortunately, these good intentions fell short when she didn’t act on the plan until her business already began declining. She needed six to nine months of lead-time to realize positive results from the plan. Instead, her business likely will see short-term losses before the plan kicks in and her business rebounds.
- Another business owner experienced strong growth and realized a need for additional team members to meet the growing demand. However, his employees are highly specialized and need several months of training to become productive and viable team members. I know what you’re thinking – recruit, recruit, recruit. but he’s “too busy to recruit” and his problems are mounting. Despite having many smart, talented and motivated people onboard already, they are not solving the big problems lurking on the horizon because they are blinded by the short-term.
As business leaders, our responsibility is to look into the horizon and forecast the future. To help us get there, let’s go back in time. When people first start in the work world, their responsibility is to do what they are told. Write this report, solve this problem, call these customers. Their horizon, if it could even be called that, is right in front of their face, maybe a day or two into the future. After some success, they may become a manager and most of the day-to-day work is delegated to their team, so their horizon slowly expands to a few weeks to a month. They spend their time thinking about resource allocation, human resources, processes and feedback mechanisms (sometimes called reports). Then, they progress to senior manager, and their horizon spawns into a quarter to a year into the future. Making budgets, assigning objectives and goals, and compiling projections become their mainstay.
As you can see, with more responsibility comes a broader horizon and thus, a need to look further into the long-term and plan for the unknowns and the foreseen. But, in order to do that, you must have those essential layers of senior managers and managers and staff who are seeing and dealing with their own horizons. While you, as the business leader, are looking 12 to 24 months into the future, your managers and staff should be handling the issues arising between today and 12 months into the future. If they know you are going to jump in and fix their problems too, they will wait, and let you do it. Instead, let them do their job and handle their horizons.
Some of you may be saying, “OK, you clearly don’t understand my business. I can’t just focus on the future! I have crises to manage now, and I have to review everything that goes out. I’ll never find the time to look forward to tomorrow, let alone the future.”
Well, this is where your managers and team members come to your rescue. Let them deal with the here and now while you focus on the “what-if’s” and “could-be’s.” You’ll have to talk with your managers and team members about how you want to broaden your horizon by working more strategically and less tactically. Let them handle the tactics. If necessary, provide them with more training or coaching, and provide them with reporting mechanisms that keep you in touch, but not entrenched in the daily operations. Focus on coaching and leading, rather than doing. In other words, let them do their jobs.
By focusing on the future and allowing your team to focus on the here and now, you’ll soon see how things will start to fall into place, both today and in the future. You’ll shift from crisis management straight into success, and your business will go … wherever your imagination will take it.
Photo credit: bogenfreund