In February 1991, when British Rail claimed “the wrong kind of snow” was to blame for disruption to their services, the UK media had a field day! Surely snow was just snow? From an engineering perspective however, British Rail had a point—not all snow is created equal.
This snow was light, fluffy, and apparently entirely unsuitable for our rail system. It wasn’t deep enough for snow ploughs and it got in places that it shouldn’t, resulting in jammed mechanisms and shorted circuits. Emergency timetables were put in place and long delays on the rail network were the order of the day.
All time is not created equal
When it comes to strategic development and building tomorrow’s success, not all time is created equal either. Too much of the wrong kind of time is likely to stop an organisation in its strategic development tracks, resulting in long delays and a failure to create tomorrow’s business.
Many organisations run primarily on maintenance time, responding to what is required right now. Their focus is on today: what needs doing, who needs responding to, and where the next sale is coming from. Head down, just get on with it. Although such time is necessary for day-to-day operations, when it comes to strategic development, maintenance time is the wrong kind of time.
With maintenance time, strategic development just will not happen. Something more important, more urgent, more now will always appear. And the more your organisation only runs on maintenance time, the more urgent everything will become! Maintenance time will, at best, result in small, incremental improvements; more often than not, it just maintains the status quo. Longer term, operating only on this kind of time will certainly result in strategic neglect.
A different kind of time
Strategic development needs a different kind of time. It can’t run on urgent, ‘now’ time. It needs a calmer, ‘development’ kind of time. It needs the kind of time that enables you to calmly look ahead and to see beyond what exists at this instant. To look towards what might exist or what could be created in the future, without worrying about that urgent email or phonecall. It steps away from today to look at how best to build your organisation and its capabilities for tomorrow.
Development time won’t happen by accident and it won’t just magically appear some day. You need to create it. Shut the door on everything else and focus. You need to extricate yourself from the urgent and look around. As a business, you need to take time out to reconsider and examine where you are headed, your broader environment, your competitors, your processes, your business model.
Become self-aware and mindful. Where do you want to be and how would you like to get there? What needs creating that doesn’t currently exist? What could be done better? What needs to go? What needs to be developed? You need to encourage your staff to ask the same questions. To ask, “Is this the best way of doing this?” To take time out. To step away for a moment to spend time on tomorrow.
In doing this, you will develop an organisation that takes responsibility for actively creating tomorrow and that is not just maintaining today. An organisation that has a strategic capability. A conqueror instead of a zombie.
How and when you decide to take this time is up to you but it does need to happen. Dare to escape the office. To turn off your phone. To leave your emails for another day. And please don’t leave this time until it’s urgent, because by then you may find that it’s just too late!