As Stephen Covey once wrote, the demands on our time can be categorized into a matrix base on the attributes of importance and urgency. Within this matrix, 4 categories of time demands arise:
Urgent, but not important: People that spend their time here…o Have a short-term focus
o Focused on crisis management
o See goals and plans are worthless
o Feel out of control
Urgent, and important: People that spend their time here…
o Always putting out fires
Not urgent, and not important: People that spend their time here…o Irresponsible
Not urgent, and important: People that spend their time here…o Balanced
o Feeling of healthy control
o Experience few crises
At the upper levels of management, how you spend your time has a much greater impact on the effectiveness of the organization than it does in most layers below. One of the reasons for this is that this is where strategy initially lives and dies. It grows out to the organization, but it is rooted in leadership.
For the most part, strategy doesn’t present itself as a burning, immediate demand that requires a decision and action RIGHT NOW. This is one of the reasons why executives spend less than an hour a month on average talking about it. We can very easily get distracted, and with a good reason. And yet, how important is the strategy? For companies that will have a hand in creating the future, the strategy is everything. Without it, you’re waiting for someone else to tell you what the future will look like.
Now before we start beating people up, why does this happen? Are people golfing when they should be strategizing? The operational demands on most leaders are really significant, there is no doubt. And the extent to which an organization is resourced appropriately certainly plays a role here, so what can be done?
First, we need to acknowledge a few things. Operational is about today, it is short term. Strategy is about designing tomorrow, it is obviously longer-term. These two demands should maintain an appropriate tension. In most cases, strategy doesn’t require 50% of your time, like your clients probably do. Having said that, it requires more than the 1 hour a month most organizations give it. Spending time in this area is the only way you get ahead of the urgent demands and risks.
Strategy is quite simply less urgent, and more important than most other things going on. How much play does it get in your organization?