Monday, November 9, 2009

Creating Strategic Capacity

A minority of A/E firms regularly do strategic planning. A much smaller minority actually execute their strategic plans. Why do firms struggle so with follow-through? There are multiple reasons, but in my mind the main problem is firm leaders who are too busy and too distracted to adequately focus on strategic efforts.

That's why I am increasingly urging my clients to take steps to create what I call "strategic capacity." This involves clearing space in overloaded calendars to work on the issues that matter most. In the typical strategic planning meeting, the meaty assignments are given to senior managers whose plates are already full. Where will they find time to work on these critically important matters? Too often, they don't.

One of my recurring themes in this space is: Don't try to tackle important tasks with leftover time. This is often done with business development. Or mentoring. Or strategic initiatives. The result is that these important, yet non-urgent activities routinely get the short shrift. What's needed is a reordering of the priorities driving our time usage.

To create more strategic capacity, let me encourage you to have your firm's senior managers go through the following exercise:
  1. Have each identify what 5-6 activities they perform that yield the highest value to the company. I'm assuming that implementing strategic initiatives will be included in this list.
  2. Ask them to estimate how much time (on average) they spend each week on these high-impact activities.

  3. Have your senior managers identify what 5-6 activities consume the bulk of their time in the average work week (it's almost certainly going to be a different list than their high-impact activities).
  4. Then have them determine how to shift more time from the second list of activities to their high-impact activities. This usually involves doing one of the following with their most time-consuming responsibilities: delegate, decrease, delay, delete. Each manager should develop a personal plan for shifting more time to high-value tasks.

  5. Set up a "project" number for each strategic initiative and track time charged to the effort. This will enable you to confirm that appropriate management time is being redirected to your firm's most important activities.

Of course, simply delegating responsibilities down the organization can create other capacity problems. That means ultimately you have to delay or eliminate certain lower-priority activities. That's the crux of time management: We all have more things we'd like to be doing than we have time to do them. That problem applies to organizations as well.

So you have to choose. Creating strategic capacity means that you are choosing to reallocate time from less important to more important activities. Research shows that this is a key attribute of the most successful companies. Will your firm be among them?

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