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Navigating the Unplanned While Still Looking to the Future

Businesses are often faced with the need to balance solving problems with implementing long-term strategy. Some situations cannot be factored into your firm’s long-term strategic decisions, yet they necessitate immediate and thoughtful action. For example, it is difficult to plan for the departure of key personnel or the termination of a relationship that may have provided substantial revenue for your business. The problem of balancing long-term growth with solving unplanned problems is something that all firms face, whether one is a burgeoning startup or an established institution. In order to survive, all firms must be able to successfully reconcile short-term problem solving with long-term goal setting and implementation.

Honing in Solely on Immediate Problems

By focusing solely on putting out fires, a particular set of issues arises. A detrimental cycle wherein urgent problems only replace one another can limit any substantial progress and cause a slow but inevitable shift away from the firm’s initial mission. Perhaps you are a company that is faced with an emerging competitor that is causing your revenue to continually decline. Encountering the very important need of remaining profitable ultimately forces you to take on business that does not align with your mission or causes you to shift your service offerings slightly to meet your customer’s needs. But abandoning your mission to put out these fires may ultimately cause your competitor to strengthen as you struggle with simply surviving as a firm. If you are in constant crisis mode you will face employees that are demotivated and encounter rising costs associated with satisfying customers that do not necessarily fit your primary business model. Eventually, the task of developing sound strategy falls to the wayside and long-term initiatives cannot be prioritized.

Implementing a Rigid Strategic Plan

Conversely, a singular focus on long-term planning can stymie the flexibility that is actually needed to address some of the unplanned situations that occur. Consider a service-based company that has plans to change the way patients receive in-home therapy. While implementing their plan they suddenly realize that they are attracting clients who do not fit their intended demographic. Moreover, these clients demand a very specific form of therapy the company originally intended to be only a small part of their services. At this point, the firm can chose either to stick to their initial plan in an effort to revolutionize outpatient physical therapy, or they can capitalize on this development and alter their long-term strategy. Choosing to ignore the very clear market demands may ultimately cause the firm to fold, whereas a slight shift in plan may allow them to achieve their goals.

Regardless of the nature of the unforeseen situation that arises, it is wise for your strategic plan to be an organic document that can adapt to the ebbs and flows of life. Having an unwavering allegiance to your plan may leave you with particular benchmarks or goals that don’t necessarily make sense. If you have created a plan that is not suited to properly respond to market shifts, such as the one mentioned, too much time will be wasted doing damage control. This clearly is an unsustainable model that can greatly jeopardize your company.

Balancing Immediate Problems and Long-term Strategy

The most enduring, albeit difficult, solution to balancing the short-term and long-term is to ensure that your team has individuals that are capable of responding to the problems. If your company leader is great with cultivating an excellent vision, you must have a complimentary individual that excels in the day-to-day problem solving. By separating the two tasks, but allowing for fluid communication, you have the best chance at ensuring a proper balance.

Finding the right people is a difficult task and can often take time that you simply do not have. In the interim, it may be useful to consider allowing a team of strategists like EMH to guide you through these particularly trying periods. Our work has spanned multiple industries and we can help you to develop the tools to solve immediate problems and develop a robust strategy for growth. As a firm that specializes in guiding clients through periods of profound change, we can confidently state that there should be a balance between putting out immediate fires, while still holding true to the plan you worked so hard to develop. Effective planning requires much more than identifying ultimate goals: anticipating inevitable risks is also necessary. We are experts in this sort of planning and will be a valuable resource for your company.

Andrew J. Albert