by Peter A. Arthur-Smith, Leadership Solutions, Inc.®
“Today is our present and tomorrow is our future: but they also enable us to get our priorities into perspective.”
Who would question that today means that 24 hour period in which we eat, sleep, play, study, work or pursue our hobbies? And who would question that tomorrow projects time to infinity, starting at midnight, every day? It’s rather like hurdling: if you’re successful at it, you’re not so much concentrating on the hurdle you are clearing but focusing on the next one ahead. That way, you build maximum momentum.
Even so, if we are eager to build organizational momentum, they are the two most under-utilized concepts that exist within our educational, government or work environment. Almost everyone seems to struggle with their priorities, including this writer, until they take full advantage of these today-tomorrow concepts. If we are serious about building momentum, we can utilize today and tomorrow at much greater advantage. Just take a look at Jeff Bezos who leads Amazon.
He’s building extraordinary momentum through: Today – running his various business e-enterprises: book distribution, food shopping, newspaper publishing, and music-video distribution. At the same time, he is preparing for Tomorrow with his warehouse distribution network and delivery channels; as well as thinking-about where his duplicate HQ and home might be – in another US time zone – and what form Amazon’s future air, sea or land delivery might take: from drones, to self-driving vehicles, to space delivery. We can all take a lesson from his example; especially business and organization leaders, as well as their other levels of organizational leadership…more about these latter levels later.
If you wish to build extraordinary momentum, take a leaf from Bezos’s “e-book” and work with today and tomorrow time concepts in a different way. Of course, it depends on the work role you play. When Bezos was running a small entrepreneurial, e-book-supply operation, his today was delivering books over his current quarter; and his tomorrow was looking out over the next 1-2 years as to what else he could deliver through email media. Now that he’s orchestrating a major enterprise, his today is delivery horizon is over the current 12 months, and his tomorrow is mapping-out the next 3-5 years: where tomorrow combines both his preparing component for the subsequent 12 months, and his thinking-about over the subsequent 2-3 years after that.
His preparing includes all the building-out of distribution points Amazon needs, both in the US and overseas, as well as the road, sea and air systems he needs for delivering to his millions of e-customers. His preparing also includes his negotiations with architects and contractors who will build or refurbish his additional duplicate HQ and home. Add to this his thinking-about activity: What form of future delivery channels does he need, by air, sea and land, to provide prompt, on-time delivery to retain his worldwide customer base? No doubt you will have figured out that he needs to do the executing, preparing and thinking-about simultaneously. How is that possible?
But not so fast. He doesn’t strictly entertain all three simultaneously, as our crest-fallen, multi-taskers have abruptly found out. It’s more likely that he apportions his time on a weekly-monthly 20-80 basis. Where 20% of his time is spent on today – executing delivery over the next 12 months – and the remaining 80% of his time is devoted to tomorrow; with 50% of that time focused on preparing the way for upgraded services and the other 30% spent thinking-about future services. Those percentages convert to 8/32hrs of his week/month (20%) focused on today’s execution factors; and 32/128hrs devoted to tomorrow’s preparing and thinking-about activities. That still leaves remaining hours for sleeping, enjoying his family, and pursuing his hobbies; where his work week is 40hrs (hmm?) out of 168 weeklong hours.
By way of contrast, assuming you have at least two levels of leadership (strategists and team leaders – executives or supervisors in traditional speak) between you and your frontline people: then, by the time we arrive to chat with those frontline people, you will find them 80% focused on today’s – literally today and this week – activities and 20% of their time devoted to tomorrow –or next week, this month’s – challenges and likely activities.
Hence, 32hrs of their week would concentrate on immediate execution requirements and activities, and 8hrs would be devoted to preparing-for next week and thinking-about the remainder of their month. Note: That 8 hours doesn’t need to be spent in one single block, even though that would be the ultimate. It can be interspersed among the other 32hrs of execution time, assuming the conventional 40hr week. Such a 32-8hr formulation would constantly be rolled forward.
Below you will note a table laying out the different leader-staff levels, with their % today-tomorrow ratios, hour splits, time horizons and roles. Now that you’re beginning to understand the concept, you can see how things change with each level. This way the roles become complementary to each other without unnecessarily treading on each other’s toes.
In a traditional organization it is all too likely you will find all levels focusing on the front-line staff, because all levels feel more comfortable discussing day-to-day tactics and weeds rather than reviewing tomorrow’s strategy. They also cannot resist second-guessing their staff. No wonder frontline staff can become paralyzed, depressed or reluctant to take responsibility.
While each level’s today role is pretty self-evident, linking that to tomorrow’s role of preparing and thinking-about – or putting the right things-in-place and laying out the pathway beyond – is a much more challenging role for executives and first-line leaders to pull off. Again, they are not expected to be multi-taskers, but to be more cognizant of their three roles and coordinating their time accordingly. As long as they can reasonably ascertain that they can appropriately apportion their time, whether that be ad-hoc slithers or more dedicated time, they will find their domain accelerate in momentum: rather than plodding along in a logical, step-by-step or stop-start manner.
This cycle of events – executing, preparing and thinking-about – is called Priority or Strategic Streaming; where the frontline people and team leaders work with priority streaming, and the strategists and visionists work with strategic streaming. By working with streaming in a disciplined way, like Jeff Bezos, you will build incredible momentum over time and your people will enjoy every moment of it. There are three things to bear in mind to pull it off:
- Avoid becoming a multi-tasker: treat each component of today and tomorrow with its discrete amount of time.
- Weave the time into your week, month, quarter or year to the appropriate portions of time suggested.
- Like when you learnt to drive: You focused on each component in a deliberate manner initially. Once you got into the sequence of events, it increasingly became more and more natural and intuitive.
Good luck with your efforts. Then you will really see the benefits of treating today and tomorrow as different tools to make a lot of unstoppable things happen. You never know: you could become the next Amazon.
To learn more about “building momentum,” talk with: