Real business story

Striking a balance between short and long-term business needs

Balancing short and long-term business needs is a common challenge for leaders. While it’s important to have the headspace to focus on the future, setting aside time for strategic thinking is often easier said than done.
Heidi Thompson – Duncan & Toplis

Heidi Thompson is a big advocate of leaders taking a step back and examining where they can best add value

Dealing with daily tasks like client requests or employee problems can seem like quick fixes, but you’d be surprised at how it adds up.

It’s crucial to make sure that you still have the capacity to work on activities that will benefit the business in the future. This might mean delegating tasks, digitising processes or simply getting ruthless with where you need to spend your time.

One particular business leader has worked hard at getting comfortable with balancing short-term fire fighting and the need to create long-term strategies.

Align processes and systems with business objectives

The right processes and systems can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to day-to-day tasks, but leaders need to weigh up the current needs of the business against what will be needed in the next few years.

It’s something that Heidi Thompson has spent a lot of time thinking about in her role as HR director at Duncan & Toplis.

She recommends keeping business objectives firmly in mind when you’re assessing processes. That way, anything you implement will meet current needs and still be relevant further down the line.

“Processes and systems should be entirely aligned to the company’s objectives. As a business, you need to understand what you are looking to achieve in the medium and long term,” she said.

Heidi added that, like she has been successful in doing, processes should make life easier and the business more streamlined, but it’s important to avoid making changes too often. If you find yourself dealing with the same problems time and time again, there might be a larger issue that needs addressing.

“I don’t think continually changing things helps. Instead, keep focused on where you’re aiming to get to,” she said.

“HR can fall into the trap, for example, of constantly amending the appraisal form – but no appraisal form can overcome poor management skills. You should focus on the real issue, which is effective training and development of your managers. A good manager will hold a great appraisal regardless of what the form says.”

“I don’t think continually changing things helps. Instead, keep focused on where you’re aiming to get to."

Heidi Thompson, MD, Duncan & Toplis

Good time management can beat reactive thinking

Dealing with people problems on a daily basis means that HR roles can easily become reactive. While these problems can’t be ignored, it’s about allocating your time in a way that makes sense.

That might include implementing a weekly office hour to speak to staff about their challenges, then setting aside an afternoon each week where you add a “no meetings” slot in your calendar and focus solely on strategy.

“HR can become very reactive, which does not support long-term goals. But the success of a business is through its people so you need to make sure you’re balancing your time accordingly. Set clear roles and objectives to make sure you’re meeting the overall strategy while dealing with day-to-day issues.”

Stop being reactive – here's how to create a planning process that supports strategic thinking

Five steps to a better routine

From her own experience of implementing improvements and changes in her business, Heidi advises that leaders take a step back and examine where they can best add value. For her, strategic practices like performance management and culture are where real ROI is gained – those things which will shape what Duncan & Toplis looks like in the future.

If you think you’re too deep in the weeds with day-to-day requirements, it’s useful to seek another perspective on which areas you could be spending more time on.

Whether it’s speaking to a mentor or connecting with another business owner, learning about how others manage short and long-term needs can help you achieve a balance in your own role.

  • location: East Midlands (England)
  • business size: 250+ People
  • business type: Professional services, finance & banking

Top three takeaways

Check your processes meet current needs and that they will be relevant in the future.

Tackling the root cause of a problem will save you time on day-to-day issues.

Good time management can break the habit of reactive thinking.