EMH Insights

Understanding the Difference between Urgent and Important

Any business operation is urgent by nature, especially when growing quickly. New opportunities are exhilarating and flattering, and involve a lot of follow-up. New relationships must be handled carefully as impressions are formed and clients judge their new providers. New personal relationships must also be established, existing ones maintained and the standard non-income producing support functions must expand to meet the need.

It is even more critical than usual that new relationships are not mishandled, and new expectations met. An appropriate urgency develops, and grows as new business follows new business and new relationships follow new relationships. All effective team members understand that success and failures both have augmented implications.

Effective planning of a scalable model and proper execution are necessities, but are only part of effective growth. New relationships bring new opportunities, risks and long-term strategic implications.

There is an Israeli saying that is loosely translated: “Once you have a plan you have a base for change.” The concept is often misunderstood as meaning that once you get going plans become useless. However, this notion is far from the truth. In the regular course of implementation, strategic plans must be consistently revisited, judged and revised according to new context.

The natural urgency of a growing business makes this task difficult. Following are practical steps to help continuous strategic improvement.

1) Regular Team Meetings
As difficult as it can be to schedule meetings, make sure that all groups meet regularly for a pre-defined amount of time. Senior management can identify and discuss upcoming opportunities and issues well before they need a solution, effectively engaging and getting the full value out of the group. Other team members can broaden their understanding of the organization’s position and strategy and understand their part, empowering them to figure out useful solutions independently.

There is always a risk that these meetings will grow in scope and length. Therefore, it is imperative to define scope and stick to it, with one individual charged with keeping the group on schedule.

2) Seek Outside Advisors
Outside council such as mentors, specialized consultants and attorneys are essential components to strategic plans. These allies will have seen many of your challenges and opportunities before and will help you recognize positives and negatives you may not have thought of, while helping you consider their implications with the benefit of distance and complementary experience.

3) Ask, and answer the right questions
My first boss out of business school was a strategy consultant who had predicted and driven fundamental developments in his industry, and knew more about it than many of our Fortune 500 clients. But that was not what made him an effective manager or consultant. His favorite question to any employee or client was “So what?” He would ask, “So we figured this out, what does it mean and what do we do with it?” Even if information did not change he would ask to make sure everyone thought about the implications of stasis. By asking simple but meaningful questions consistently he encouraged his employees and clients to think and engage with whatever the challenge was. It created context, understanding and a true sense of ownership within every group he worked in. We also quickly learned to never present a question, and expect someone else to give us the answer. If we saw something wrong or a new opportunity, we learned to investigate and learn about the question before communicating it to the group.

Context, assumptions, and decision implications change, even if goals stay the same. Often though in the urgency of keeping a business running, those changes can be overlooked and their implications go unrecognized. Effective organizations must have mechanisms in place to predict, recognize and absorb what may not be urgent, but is fundamentally important.