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The Strategy and Multi-tasking Fight

January 27, 2011

Have you ever noticed when you talk to people about their strategic plan,
that within just a few sentences they start talking about stuff that isn’t
completed yet?    Often it centers around tracking, metrics, scorecards,
verifying that the strategy is correct, that it’s a good bet, an accurate predictor.

So why do so many of us never get around to creating a strategic plan,
or finishing off the strategic plan, updating it, verifying it, measuring against it?

Ok, I’m going through a checklist in my brain from past history.  Maybe
your are as well.  Let’s see, it’s not because of:
1.  lack of interest, or
2. because people think it’s a waste of time, or…

In fact if you interview yourself, you might uncover that you “started”
working on the strategic plan, or even “thought about it”… several times
during the course of last year… you just didn’t finish. 

Why not?

Actually there’s a couple of pretty good clues, I’ll be brief and try to
be entertaining so you can get through it with me.

Hey did you catch that?

The first reason we don’t finish and maintain a strategic process is
because it’s not something you can do in a brief period of time, nor
does it necessarily provide a lot of entertainment value, or a direct
connection to the satisfaction of crossing one more task off your
list, responding to more email, etc.  That’s a big one.

Even back in the 1960’s, when time seemed to be moving a little slower,
Drucker was talking about the need for working with bigger chunks of time,
“most of the tasks of the executive require, for minimum effectiveness,
a fairly large quantum of time.” (1967, The Effective Executive).  

My point is that we need a big chunk of time to complete strategic
analysis, planning, tracking and review, and big chunks of time are in
short supply.  

In fact, if you even think about generically working strategically,
let’s say the first part of the day, and you’re wanting to focus on
playing heads-up, focus on what would create the most value, etc…
look at what happens.  If you’re like me you get tempted to focus
on tasks that start popping into your mind, phone calls that just
came in, someone walks into your office, with a “got a minute?”,
or the incoming email barrage. 

Working strategically regularly gets overwhelmed by multi-tasking.
It also gets overwhelmed by our attention span and calendaring habits.

Just think about how we approach the task of reading.  We want to
read a brief.  We want a summary.  We want to manage by exception,
“just tell me where to sign.” 

Here’s another example.  Think about how we approach the task of
research.  I bet for most of us, we use something like Google or Bing,
and we stop after the first page or two if we’re not finding something

So strategy gets in a fight with our schedule, it wants to consume a big
chunk of time and we’re only handing our 15 – 30 minute chunks.  So
we are likely to think about the need to do some strategic planning, or
to start on the process, just not finish or keep it current.

By-the-way, Derek Dean and Caroline Webb from McKinsey, wrote a strong
article pointing out that our multi-tasking coping style for information
overload isn’t effective, entitled Recovery from Information Overload,
in case you are interested.

Bottom Line:
Creating and maintaining a strategic plan, or just the process of focusing
on working strategically invokes a fight with our multi-tasking, short
attention and calendaring habits.  For most of us strategy loses, if you
don’t lend it a helping hand in the fight and protect time to be strategic.
Which side of the fight is going to win for you this week, this month…
this year?

Strategy, Follow-up and Visiting Relatives
Strategic Management Software
– Use the Technology that helps you win the fight

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