Long-range planning works best in the short term
By TRISOFT team
In the course and activity of a company, planning and strategies are key factors in ensuring its success and profitability. They allow us to prepare for a future that may seem uncertain and unknowable, thus helping us eliminate at least part of that unpredictability and setting achievable goals.
There are three types of planning: short-term, which usually shows results within a year (for example, improving certain employees’ skills by offering training courses or development programs, fixing a broken machine or equipment, etc.); medium-term, which expects results in several years, usually three to five, during which you apply more permanent solutions to short-term problems and make sure they don’t recur (setting in place regular employee training programs, extending the groups of employees involved in them; concluding a maintenance contract with a specialized company for repairing machines and equipment); and long-term planning, which includes general goals and objectives, spread over five to even twenty-five years, aiming at solving problems permanently and reaching overall targets (purchasing facilities and equipment, implementing policies and procedures).
While a long-term plan is the preferred choice and seems to build on the achievements gained during short-term and medium-term and ensure continuous progress, allowing us to see what resources, efforts and finances will be needed for a certain project, in reality, almost all the established conditions will change during the implementation of the strategy, from beginning to end. Therefore, various aspects will need to be renegotiated and even modified. And if you weren’t prepared for that happening from the onset, it will come as a shock and constitute a serious throwback for the business as a whole.
So actually the best idea in this kind of cases is to separate the planning into smaller phases, stages, steps, whatever might work in your particular situation. This allows us to observe immediate improvements, while evaluating the progress we’ve made toward any possible goals and targets we might have. It’s perfectly alright to make a general plan and present a well thought-out strategy for it, but revisiting the process once in a while and making the needed alterations to it will actually determine its success.
In risky markets and economies, a three- or five-year plan may not be a very practical option. Instead, breaking these periods up into twelve-month plans, with integrated revision meetings every three to six months may represent a better way to go. Every intermediate step has its own objectives that must be observed.
We put a great amount of effort into creating long-term plans, yet, more often than not, they fail. Let’s take an example from real life: dieting. If we set our goal at eliminating sugar, carbs, fats, carbonated drinks and working out at least twice a week, for six months or one year, chances are very high that by the second or third week, we will cheat on the diet, slack out on the couch or renounce the program completely. But if we think of this as only a desire, an aim for the future, that we will one day arrive at, while working on smaller steps, divided into smaller periods, such as renouncing sugar one week, adding fats to that list the second week, going to the gym once a week the first month and twice a week after we get more experience and get rid of muscle aches, namely in the second month, then the odds are greater that we will stick to the plan and feel empowered by the visible progress we are gradually making.
If we were to take the example of an extremely successful company, in 1998, Jeff Bezos warned shareholders that his new company, Amazon, would not focus on short-term profit. And indeed, for more than a decade, the business was unprofitable, but making small progress every quarter; yet, due to Bezos’ strategy of becoming successful in the long run, while focusing on the achievement of small, yearly goals, has brought Amazon to the top of the most profitable companies list in 2018.
Here and now
We, as human beings, have millennia behind us telling us what we are only now relearning: we must focus on the here and now. The cavemen and people of the Middle Ages had one thing in their mind: I must put food on the table now or I won’t survive; I must escape that predator or enemy attacking me, or I will disappear off the face of the earth. Today’s targets have changed to: I must climb the social and professional hierarchy and end up earning a certain amount of money a month, so that my family’s food will be ensured today and always; I must take my children to private schools so that they will have a concrete career and, thus, be able to support their own families; I must beat my co-worker toward getting that promotion that will ensure a better future for me and my kin. The bottom line is that long-term planning goes against our nature. We should stop fighting who we are, embrace the wonderful things it brings us, and actually use our human nature to secure our success.
Embracing the unexpected
At TRISOFT, we believe reaching a long-term objective is great, but smaller successes must also be appreciated and celebrated. So take time to acknowledge each stage and how it has brought you to the fulfillment of the bigger target. Be firm when it comes to your goals, but flexible in your plans. As John Lennon expertly put it, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” So, prepare for the unexpected!