ASK SCORE: Working on the really important or just the urgent?

Working on the really important or just the urgent?
A way to make your business more productive
By Richard Walton, Assistant District Director for SCORE

Is there anyone working today who doesn't plan his or her work on a weekly, or even a daily basis? We all seem to have to-do lists, planners, post-it notes, and reminders of one sort or another showing scheduled tasks and due dates. And don't forget meetings, performance reports, appraisals, disruptions, and conferences. It's a busy world we work in. But here's the problem.
(BOLD)Daily busywork does not equate to long-term goal attainment
Despite all this activity there is something missing which actually makes most of what we do irrelevant to what we should be doing. We concentrate on the urgent, and leave the important unattended. We work on doing things right, rather than doing the right things. It's all about expediency, living in the moment, and blissful unconcern for 'the long run'.
Yet it is in the long run that business success is achieved, not in the daily or weekly (even monthly planned activities). And the long run is where our attention should be focused. Here is where we can make a difference, not just for our company, or ourselves but also perhaps for the whole world. What is missing here in the short run (daily/weekly) is the pull of goals and objectives, things that we should be striving for, things that will make a difference, if only we could attend to them.
(BOLD)It's not just the goal; it's action toward reaching the goal
Having goals and objectives isn't enough in and of itself. There are plenty of people around who have personal and organizational goals neatly bound in booklets on their desks or wall-mounted statements of organizational goals and objectives. The problem is that the future envisioned in the goals and objectives and mission statement does not happen automatically as a result of our activities. Goal attainment is earned by concerted and continuously focused concentration on reaching the goal. The best way to set the foundation for reaching goals and objectives is by the careful preparation of a Business Plan and the dedication to execute it as though our future depends upon its successful implementation. Which it does. So how do we go about it?
(BOLD)Goal setting and the tasks required to reach them
Goals and objectives are derived from an initial assessment of the organization's internal strengths and weaknesses such as product acceptance in the market, competitive pricing, superior sales and other promotional effort, effective data management and inspired leadership.(among others, of course). Emerging from this part of the analysis is a picture of the firm's internal capability (or the lack thereof) in critical operational areas. We would then assess the external threats and opportunities that exist in the competitive environment. The external part of the analysis is designed to identify situations (opportunities) where the firm could exploit its strengths for competitive advantage while limiting the negative impact of its weaknesses by avoiding identified threats. This process uses a tool called SWOT Analysis, with the SWOT term referring to strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This process results in a clear assessment of the strategic options open to the firm. Based upon this assessment, and in concert with the firm's mission statement, goals and objectives are formulated. These goals and objectives are then fully identified and developed as part of the Business Plan Action plans must also be developed that include the tasks and resource commitments required, along with time lines for goal attainment. It is these goals and objectives that now must form the basis of everyday action within the organization. We must make certain that what we are doing today and this week is leading ultimately to goal attainment, and the realization of strategic objectives.
(BOLD)How do you link today's action with goal attainment
How do you link actions on a daily basis with long-term objectives? This is a process of identifying what has to be done to reach the objective and then making work assignments to do the necessary tasks. For example, if the long-term goal were to increase sales in order to achieve market leadership, we would first develop the components of a business model that would provide the firm with a sustainable competitive advantage. These might include competitive product pricing, product design changes, sales training, improved quality, cost effective logistical management (including reverse logistics), and superior after the sale service. We would then take each of the required tasks and one by one develop a specific action plan to achieve the goals in each identified area. The plan would include both a targeted level of attainment and a timeline for implementing the tasks and reaching the goal. It would also include specific assignments for everyone involved, and everyone in the firm should be involved in goal attainment.
But the reality is that even with clearly stated goals and objectives, and with the long-term future of the firm hanging in the balance, many organizations simply cannot focus their efforts where they need to be. Accordingly, I have listed below the most common obstructions managers are likely to encounter in their efforts to concentrate work on the really important versus the merely urgent with suggested solutions to overcome them.
(BOLD)Why firms don't work on goals and what to do abut it
Negative Thought: We can't do all this new work and still keep dong our old work. There just isn't time.
Making job descriptions reflect the new reality of effort concentrated on important things, not urgent things, creates positive Response Time.
Negative Thought: I don't know how to do this new task
Positive Response We will provide training and support to learn and handle the new tasks that are required.
Negative Thought: These changes will really disrupt my work and make it more difficult to get anything done
Positive Response Change is always disruptive and it usually produces a better and more productive work environment
Negative Thought: What's in it for me doing all this extra work?
Positive Response We're building an organization here that we think will thrive in the lean economy of today and the improved economy of the future, and if you help us build it, you will see stable employment and improved salaries.
No doubt other issues can be raised as well, but these are a few that I have encountered in my consulting work and also in my mentoring efforts for entrepreneurs through SCORE. Call your local SCORE office to get further assistance on making your business more productive through Long Term Goal Attainment. SCORE provides a wide range of services to both start up businesses and going concerns, and it's free!

Mr. Walton teaches Financial Management, Operations Management, Corporation Finance, and Entrepreneurial Finance at Frostburg State University. He is also Assistant District Director for SCORE, Western Maryland, and the President of ERMACORP, a Hagerstown based Management Consulting Firm. He may be reached at 301-462-9850, or by email to