Thinking Managers

Robert Heller of complains that managers spend too much time obsessing about the present and too little time considering the future.

Future Planning and Management

Many managers are living in the past. That probably sounds ridiculous. For instance, what about the five-year strategies, the spending on research and development, the new initiatives in cyberspace, the ambitious acquisitions, etc? In spite of activity like this, managers are always affected by what they already have, by their 'legacy' business and 'legacy' systems – so deeply affected, in fact that even unavoidable change is resisted.

Managers have to perform a delicate and difficult exercise achieving an optimum combination of past, present and future. The past isn't all bad, just as the future isn't likely to be all good. In fact, the organisation's inheritance is likely to include some of its greatest and richest strengths. As a consequence, a prime duty of management is to protect the past and to sustain and exploit the inherited assets. However, it is also incumbent on them to protect the future.

In most cases, companies that have flourished in the past are left behind as newcomers capture the future. And this isn't usually because the old-comers have tried and failed in the new businesses and technologies. Usually, they have paid too little attention to trends, or have responded with too little action, too late.

Nobody can live anywhere other than the present. However, you can bring the future into the present by forming concrete programmes in which everybody participates – in full knowledge of the long-term goals that you want to achieve as the future is invented.

To face the future rather than the past, try setting unreasonable targets. Targets act as a ceiling on people's ambitions, so set one that they think impossible, and they might surprise themselves, as well as you.

Also, take a wide view of what you consider your market to be. Managers will move into extended markets with more energy and enthusiasm if they are creating a cause as well as a business. To do this, pursue an overall objective that your people can understand and with which they can identify.

You should be open to new ideas. Venture capitalists make lots of mistakes, but they don't usually fail to listen to innovative propositions. Although few are chosen, many are called – and listened to. Make sure everyone has their ideas considered.

Top managers have to change themselves if they expect others to do so. And they have to do whatever that takes.

You cannot evade the necessity for this personal transformation. Top managers can no longer live in the past and turn their backs on the future.

There is always a natural urge to stick with the familiar, where the risks are known and the upside is limited. The unfamiliar holds unknown risks, but a huge potential.

About the author
Robert Heller is one of the world’s best selling authors on business management.

  Robert Heller