Forward thinking your way to success

It’s no secret that being able to think ahead in whatever project or process you’re involved in is a valuable skill. Being able to plan a process or envision your next business move is important to becoming successful. In a recent conversation with a business executive, I was introduced to a good rule of thumb to follow in any organization: the higher up you are at your company, the further ahead you should plan.

General trend for thinking ahead at an organization

As an example I’ve drafted up a small graph that depicts a relatively shallow company structure, but shows the time span for which each role should be thinking ahead. At the top of the company structure we have the CEO. Depending on the company or industry the CEO might think ahead as far as 30 years or more (my example graph depicts only 10 years).  At the bottom we have a software developer, who might only make decisions day to day that will fit into a 1 month outlook. This graph is by no means the definitive guide, but depicts the general trend.

In order to effectively plan ahead, each specific role must delegate their attention wisely to the different steps that must be taken to reach the goal. By wisely I mean that attention should strictly be given only to those tasks that affect the goal.  By placing attention elsewhere the plan can fall apart.  What’s worse is that this effect falls down the chain of command, and each of the people that works under that relative superior is also not thinking as far ahead.  For example, if the VP of Sales starts making short term goals a top priority, and loses site of the long term 5 year goal, all of the decisions that are made by the Director will have to comply with the VP’s shorter goal, and the director will have to focus on an even smaller chunk to make sure that the details of this plan get worked out.  Right when a superior starts concerning (him/her)self with the details that should be the focus of a subordinate, the whole organization can lose site of any sort of long term goals.

If the VP of Sales starts focusing on a short term goal the whole system under the VP fails.

To combat this issue, each role should split their forward-thinking time span up into a specific number of pieces (which would likely depend on the business and/or industry). As an example we’ll just separate each outlook into 30 pieces. This means that each role will have 30 sub-sections to focus on in order to reach the end goal.  A developer might focus on day-to-day tasks in order to reach a 1 month goal (maybe a specific development of a skill); a project manager would make sure that things were falling into place every two weeks (maybe a goal to reduce project overhead and increase efficiency); the CEO would be focusing on making sure things were coming together quarterly, bi-annually, or maybe even just once a year (most likely focusing on a goal that defines where the company is headed over the next 10-30 years).

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