How to Plan for the Short Term

How to Plan for the Short Term

Being quick, nimble and reactive is the order of the day. Start by getting rid of the long-term mind-set

Attitude Adjustment Time

Clearly, working with two types of planning requires a certain amount of attitude adjustment. Managers and executives alike need to understand that saying they manage for the short term is no longer a negative but a necessity - and can be an effective way to function.

Many managers feel that they work all day just "putting out fires" and that they "don't get any actual work done". In fact, putting out the fires can be a major benefit to the organisation. It's easy to forget that even if it doesn't feel productive personally, a doused fire that allows a subordinate to become more productive again or helps colleagues tackle their work can benefit the organisation as much as a task that helps the individual achieve his or her personal targets and goals.

No one questions the need for firefighters to respond quickly to events when they occur. Corporate firefighters are doing the same thing, and they can be the most valuable people in the company. The trick is to tackle the fires that are the most threatening to the company's immediate needs.

Firefighters often battle blazes by digging a trench or setting afire a swatch of forest to prevent a fire from spreading; the line is called a firewall (just as the software that helps shield a company's computers from the outside world is called the corporate firewall). It may be helpful to think of the daily firefighting done within corporations as digging the firewall that will keep the fire from bringing down the entire forest. In some cases, putting out a fire may be the one thing that most benefits the company.

Managers become frustrated because they often feel that the short-term demands placed on them are a negative and that the short-term stuff isn't as important as long-term stuff. They fail to recognise that in today's business environment, managing for the short term is a reality with which everyone is having to come to terms.

Chuck Martin is a former vice president of IBM and founding publisher and COO of Interactive Age Planning Styles Long-term planning is anchored to the calendar. Short-term planning is more agile, taking advantage of unforeseen events.


Calendar-Driven Planning

Based on time.

Produces a document.

Is declared.

Focuses on goal.

Creates obstacles to change once strategy is set.

Creates strategy implementers.

Event-Driven Planning

Based on events.

Produces a sequential process.

Is interactive and iterative.

Focuses on process.

Creates environment for constant change.

Creates manager-strategists.

SIDEBAR: The CFO as Sheriff

Don't shoot the one who's only enforcing the company's budget.

The Chief Financial Officer is often seen as the one who won't fund a new project that the proponent is certain will help the organisation become more productive, more efficient or more profitable. When that money isn't forthcoming, the CFO frequently is the one who takes the blame.

However, that's like going after the sheriff for enforcing the law. Like the sheriff, finance is merely applying numbers to the corporate strategy; the "law" he's enforcing is the company's budget.

To effectively manage for the short term, any executive who wants his operation to produce demonstrable results quarter-by-quarter must look at the information flow within the corporation, how individual managers are enabled to use that information, the integration of corporate strategy and day-to-day "street truth", and how all of these factors can be used to improve the organisation's numbers.

All of these processes must also feed into how the corporate strategy is developed and executed. If they are aligned, the budget the CFO has to enforce will be a truer reflection of what the company wants to achieve.

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