Do you ever slow down enough though to think about the future of your operation?

The late Peter Drucker, a great management guru of our times, was still teaching at age 94. He used to say that today “leaders and managers are not taking time to think.” And he was probably right, since many times people in leadership and management positions are consumed by the day-to-day operations that they can’t lift their head at times up to see what’s in front of them.

They’re mired in the muck of “heads-down work.”

Richard is the manager for two dairy operations — one milking 3,200 and the other 1,400 and growing. He works 12 to 14 hours a day and probably up at 70 to 80 hours a week. Although he has supervisors at both sites, it seems like he is always putting out fires and getting into all areas of the dairy, trying to supervise everyone. He has not been able to meet with the nutritionist and veterinarian in weeks to discuss strategies for lower feed costs. He is behind in spring planning and so forth… you get the picture.

Heads-down work is operational type of work, whether it is addressing a problem with equipment at the parlor, helping fill a spot for the evening shift, or finding a replacement for an employee that quit yesterday. Don’t take it wrong; those kinds of things are needed, but not always from the people at the top of the business structure.

Heads-up work, on the other hand, is more strategic in nature. When engaging in heads-up work, the manager takes the time to think about the future of his operation and how he will position himself to meet the important objectives.   Heads-up work is lifting your head and slowing down enough to plan your time for the next month, or next week, rather than flying by the seat of your pants. 

Effective managers strike a balance between the operational things and strategic thinking. Effective leaders can’t have one without the other. 

Here are some ways to find that balance:

1.         Evaluate the organization of your time;
plan your week.

2.         Schedule time for strategic thinking.

3.         Involve key players in strategic thinking
(managers, supervisors, external consultants).

4.         Evaluate how you are doing in delegating tasks (especially operational ones).

5.         Manage your energy. Meeting operational
needs can tire you quickly.

6.         Distinguish what the mid- to long-term strategies for the business are, write them down, and determine which tactics will help you accomplish those strategies.

7.         Heads-up work is more important the higher up you are in the organization.

There is always that tendency by owners and managers who have grown their business from scratch to be involved in everyday tasks. They know exactly what needs to be done in a certain situation — or at least have an opinion, an idea, or a thought on the matter.

Some owners, like Richard, can’t seem to lift their heads up. Others find a way to balance the everyday tasks with strategic, long-term initiatives.

What adjustments have you made in this respect?  What would it take for you to do more heads-up planning?

Jorge is CEOof Leadership Coaching International, Inc., an  organizational development-and-leadership coaching firm based in Puyallup, Wash.He can be contacted at (360) 481-0133.