The care my son receives on his days at nursery is second to none. I cannot think of anywhere else I’d rather he spent his days. As with all great things, though, there’s a minor quibble. When it comes to paperwork, the place isn’t quite so great.
On Thursday last week I was handed a form to fill in, asking for the changes we wanted to make to the days of the week he attends. These changes would take effect from September. Only problem was the deadline – Wednesday. The day before I’d been given the form.
Now, it doesn’t seem like a big thing. But a decision about which, and how many, days of childcare you need is actually quite an involved one. Think about it properly and you end up trying to predict the shape of two adults’ working weeks for as far as 18 months away. That in turn prompts thoughts over what job you might be in, or want to be in. Where’s your career going? Might you want to have another child? What about moving house?
Answers by yesterday please.
In reality, of course, these questions are just the stuff of life. But I found it fascinating how quickly I was contemplating disproportionately major issues as a result of an apparently innocuous question, though one that I was nevertheless obliged to answer, and to answer quickly.
Having some sort of consensus at home about our medium term plans helped. Happily having just had another baby those are pretty fixed for the time being, but it’s clear how important it is to have constant discussion and efforts to agree on what the priorities are for ourselves and our family. We know where we stand, but if we didn’t then that deceptively simple question might send us into a tailspin.
Dealing with questions thrown at us in the present is easier if we know how they fit it to a wider, longer-term framework. This is as true for businesses as it is for people. Knowing the direction of travel means we’re more likely to keep to the route and take the right turns.
This, essentially, is strategy. But it’s been somewhat buried, I think, in our rush to have conversations with clients about ‘real-time’ planning. We all urge our clients to ‘do’ it, high on a sugar rush of social media conversations and buzz monitoring data. But how is it done? How do we afford it? How do we get clients up to speed?
And most importantly, why?
Because, of course, we’ve inevitably started to conflate this with the most immediate, identifiable and measurable ‘real-time’ activity we see people/consumers doing. Real-time planning has become synonymous with social media, and most of the discussion is reduced to a pretty superficial version of what it could be. Because we can now see stuff happening, we become desperate to do something about it.
Instead of being interested in business performance, though, we get distracted by brand-related buzz. Might this be because it’s this kind of stuff that gives agencies more license to make more advertising? Or, if we must, ‘content’?
I suspect so. Like many buzzy concepts its currency among agencies has outstripped understanding of its nature, and its application to clients’ business. Which means we’re all talking about it, haranguing clients about it, while missing the substance of what we observe.
Once again, it seems, technology has rung the bell, and agencies have proved themselves as Pavlovian as ever. I hope we don’t have our gaze stolen from the real potential benefits. Or indeed from the kind work involved in bringing them about.
Real-time planning will be incredibly valuable to some organisations. But it needs to do two things. First, it should resonate more deeply within businesses, so decision-makers can see the impact of becoming more agile. Second, it requires the capacity to react and respond to momentary incidents, as they arise, and the ability to evaluate what they mean. Do they represent an opportunity or a challenge to the strategy. You might want to react when trends in your business start to emerge – but only if you know whether those trends are good or bad for long-term strategy. You might want to capitalise on something cultural, or a new insight about the way your customers are behaving – but first you need to be clear on what that new development really means for the brand or the business.
So the key is having more, and new, stakeholders on board.
We can’t react to ‘now’ if we don’t know where we want to be in the future. And we can’t do it if those of a different view of the future aren’t included.
Which is why, just to be sure, I double-checked about the nursery with my wife