Long Term Thinking: Tips for Practitioners
In my last post I talked about the worrisome plague of short termism, especially in times when organisations are undergoing crisis. Unfortunately, this tendency to focus on “now” doesn’t only affect those undergoing massive change or challenges, but also in day to day operations. Sometimes clients are so busy with their day to day duties they do not have the luxury to step back and look at the wider picture. As practitioners it is our job to help our clients step back, enjoy the view, and remind them of WHY they are doing what they are doing: letting them remember their purpose and their vision of the future.
This sounds much more easier than done, so here are some tips I have used successfully in the past or I have seen colleagues use successfully in the past.
- Under crisis first think of what costs are really essential. Do you really need to see X person face to face, or can you arrange a video conferencing call/ teleconference? If you really need to travel buy economy class tickets. Do you really need to print out all those documents? Can you use a PDF version and read it online? You might laugh, but it is incredible how much goes into buying paper, cartridges and general office supplies.
- If cutting costs using the method above does still require more analysis, think about the overall operations of the organisation. What is essential and what can go? This is a tough decision! In order to help your client really understand the essentials, ask them to consider what they need now to take them past the dip, and what will they need once they recover? What they list in both lists will be the essentials now, or highlight where investment needs to go. It is a known fact that many organisation cut down on training, as an example, during periods of downturn, soon to realise that they actually needed to take time during the dip to up-skill staff for their new roles… so was it really a nice to have??
- Once we get out of this, who and what will we need not only to survive, but to accelerate growth?
For non-crisis situations, 10 questions to ask:
- Why? Ask your client why they have taken a certain decision. Go one step further and ask why again. This will help them get down to their “real rationale” or see if this is really the way to go?
- How will this contribute to our 5 year plan? How do you see this working?
- Ok, this may help us now, but will we need to review it again later?
- How will the future look like, feel like… will this help with that?
- Will this really give us a different result?
- Have you asked the people involved what they think? Did they have any ideas that are worth exploring?
- Draw me a picture of what the future looks like? Is there a place for X or Y in our journey there? Can we do something different? Using art, pictures, or story boards can be a powerful tool to get your client thinking creatively about the future.
- What’s more important getting there or how? Now this one is almost a trick question! The value is that you really see the underlining assumption of your client and the way they work. If they are totally results driven you can start thinking about them sustaining their result and if the action they are thinking on taking will only have these in the short term or will they be sustainable and go from there.
- Is this were you thought we would be now? What could have we done differently? What did we learn? What went well? Who should be involved next time? Did we give it enough time?
- What will the legacy be? Not just for now, but for your children? Now this is quite a hard one, as one the outside looks like a question for environmental causes, but what we forget is that organisation no matter in what sector play a role in society as a whole, so any action they do will have a ripple and compounding effect on their community’s future.
As a discussion point if you are a practitioner and have any other questions or tips on how to get your clients thinking on the long term please comment on this post as it will be a great resource for us all.