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It’s helpful to have a clear perspective on your organisation’s challenges, divided into levels of urgency and importance

Our industry isn’t getting easier, even as Covid appears to be more in control. Most organisations are facing immediate, significant challenges. We see widespread labour shortages; transport and supply is a huge issue; food inflation is happening, and companies are still trying to establish working rhythms post-lockdown. But the future is also hurtling towards us, and companies need to prepare.

Businesses need to address the realities of right now, while simultaneously getting ready for the near future. They can’t focus on one or the other. So how can they set about doing both?

First, consider urgency and importance, from Stephen Covey’s model (author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People). We tend to focus time and attention only on the urgent, sometimes including the fairly unimportant. As a result, we never get round to the important but less urgent. So a company floods 100% of its energy into managing transport now (obviously very important), but then finds next year they have missed the boat on quick commerce. A clear perspective on your organisation’s challenges, divided into levels of urgency and importance, will help avoid this happening.

Second, divide your talent between the now and the near future. This might mean your commercial and operational teams focusing on now, and marketing or strategy teams on the near future. The key is to avoid silos or friction between these camps. The onus is on those working on the future to be sympathetic to the realities of the coalface, and the onus is on those working in the now to reserve enough attention and brainpower to give quality input to future work. Without this, the company risks getting into a strategy that is very hard to practically deliver.

Third, communicate more. If your people know the organisation is addressing the immediate and the longer term challenges, it will lessen anxiety and allow them to focus on their own role. The tougher the environment, the more effort should go into communication. Teams and Zoom have made it much easier. Most companies have stepped up their internal communications since the initial Covid shock, and many leaders talk and reassure more widely though social media. Steve Murrells at Co-op and Stuart Machin at M&S have been very visible on LinkedIn through Covid, supporting and cheering on staff.

Our industry is good in a crisis. We enjoy an urgent challenge. But the companies who win in the long term will navigate through the present storm whilst still spending enough time mapping out the path beyond. The truth is, it isn’t about “winning now” or “preparing for the future”. It’s about both.