The future requires not just happen if one wishes hard enough.
The future requires decisions – now. It imposes risk – now. It requires action – now. It demands allocation of resources, and above all, of human resources – now. It requires work – now.
The idea of long-range planning – and much of its reality – rests on a number of misunderstandings. The long range is largely made by short-run decisions. Unless the long range is built into, and based on, short-range plans and decisions, the most elaborate long-range plan will be an exercise in futility. And conversely, unless the short-range plans – that is, the decisions on the here and now – are integrated into one unified plan of action, they will be expedient, guess, and misdirection. “Short range” and “long range” are not determined by any given time span. A decision is not short range because it takes only a few months to carry it out. What matters is the time span over which it is effective. Long-range planning should prevent managers from uncritically extending present trends into the future, from assuming that today’s products, services, markets, and technologies will be the products, services, markets, and technologies of tomorrow, and, above all, from dedicating their resources and energies to the defense of yesterday. Everything that is “planned” becomes immediate work and commitment.
How to Abandon
Abandonment must be practiced systematically.
“To abandon what?” and “To abandon how?” have to be practiced systematically. Otherwise they will always be “postponed,” for they are never “popular” policies.
In one fairly big company offering outsourcing services in most developed countries, the first Monday of every month is set aside for an abandonment meeting at every management level from top management to the supervisors in each area. Each of these session s examines one part of the business – one of the services one Monday, one of the regions in which the company does business a month later, the way this or that service is organized the Monday morning of the third month, and so on. Within the year, the company this way examines itself completely, including its personnel policies, for instance. In the course of a year, three to four major decisions are likely to be made on the “what” of the company’s services and perhaps twice as many decisions to change the “how.” But also each year, three to five ideas for new things to do come out of these sessions. These decisions to change anything – whether to abandon something, whether to abandon the way something is being done, or whether to do something new – are reported each month to all members of management. And twice a year all management levels report on what has actually happened as a result of their sessions, what action has been taken and with what results.
Balance Continuity and Change
Precisely because change is a constant, the foundations have to be extra strong.
The more an institution is organized to be a change leader, the more it will need to establish continuity internally and externally, the more it will need to balance rapid change and continuity. One way is to make partnership in change the basis of continuing relationships. Balancing change and continuity requires continuous work on information. Nothing disrupts continuity and corrupts relationships more than poor or unreliable information. It has to become routine for any enterprise to ask at any change, even the most minor one: “Who needs to be informed of this?” And this will become more and more important as more enterprise come to rely on people working together without actually working together – that is, on people using the new technologies of information. Above all, there is need for continuity in respect to the fundamentals of the enterprise: its mission, its values, its definition of performance and results.
Finally, the balance between change and continuity has to be built into compensation, recognition, and rewards. We will have to learn, similarly, that an organization will have to reward continuity – for instance, by considering people who deliver continuing improvement to be as valuable to the organization, and as deserving of recognition and reward, as the genuine innovator.
Organizations Destabilize Communities
In its culture, the organization always transcends the community.
Modern organizations have to operate in a community. Their results are in the community. Yet the organization cannot submerge itself in the community or subordinate itself to that community. Its “culture” has to transcend community. Companies on which local communities depend for employment close their factories or replace grizzled model-makers who have spent years learning their craft with twenty-five-year-old “whiz kids” who know computer simulation. Every one of such changes upsets the community. Every one is perceived as “unfair.” Every one destabilizes.
It is the nature of the task that determines the culture of an organization, rather than the community in which that ask is being performed. Each organization’s value system is determined by its task. Every hospital, every school, every business, has to believe that what it is doing is an essential contribution on which all the other in the community depend in the last analysis. To perform its task successfully, it has to be organized and managed the same way. If an organization’s culture clashes with the values of its community, the organization’s culture will prevail – or else the organization will not be able to make its social contribution.