One challenge I have as a coach is supporting my clients in developing lists of priorities that keep their process moving forward, without overwhelming them.
An inspiring article by John Jantsch called The Logistics of Time suggested an interesting approach. In this article, John explores the idea that every business has three clocks it must attend to: Real Time, Deal Time, and Meal Time. While my thinking has deviated from John’s original premise, the basic idea remains the same: that there are three cycles of different duration in a business. John proposed marketing ‘clocks’: real-time monitoring of the environment; relationship-building, converting, and closing deals; and building the long-term security of your meal-ticket by focusing on the deeper work of your vision, mission, and values.
I have re-framed the concept as three cycles: the current cycle, the growth cycle, and the deep cycle.
I have a life-long interest in music and acoustics, and I see these three cycles as being like sound waves. In acoustics we look at things like frequency, or oscillations per second, and period, the distance between one peak in the wave and the next. The two are related. A high musical note has a high frequency (measured in thousands or even tens of thousands cycles per second), and a short period. A mid-frequency wave (think alto saxophone, or the middle keys of a piano) has slower oscillations (the middle ‘A’ on a piano is 440 cycles per second) and longer periods. In music the notes described as low, or bass notes, are measured in 10’s of cycles. The lowest sound normally audible to humans is about 20 oscillations per second.
I have applied these cycles to business planning. I think of the frequency as the ‘pitch’ or ‘business’ of the activity, and the period as a measure of how far into the future the planning cycle looks.
- The current cycle encompasses those activities that maintain the operation and deliver on products and services already sold. This cycle includes accounting, operations, logistics, human resources. There is a great deal of repetitive, predictable, and reactive activity. This cycle isn’t sexy, but failure to attend to it, to commit time to its maintenance and tuning, means early and catastrophic failure. The ‘period’ for this cycle is very short: somewhere between hourly and monthly.
- The growth cycle captures everything that gets the next sale, hires the next employee, or plans for the next equipment upgrade. In this higher-frequency cycle, the focus areas (pricing, networking, promoting, acquiring, evaluating) require more creativity, and imply a greater degree of risk, than the current cycle. The period of the growth cycle is monthly to quarterly.
- The deep cycle is about the long, slow, deep building that ensures the sustainability of the business. The period of the deep cycle is between 18 months to 5 years.The deep cycle is about building foundations (the lowest note in a harmony is called the fundamental), and planning for significant new directions in the future. This cycle may contribute nothing to current revenues, but is where great leadership makes the greatest impact. The deep cycle is about imagining and envisioning new markets, new services, new methods of delivery, and sometimes entirely new business models.
When a business assigns the right degree of focus and optimum level of resources to each cycle, it creates a harmony (an idea also introduced by John). The question is: what are the optimum levels of focus and resources required by each cycle? What do you think? Thinking in terms of money, time, and human capital, what level of investment is appropriate to each level?
I provide support for small to medium-sized businesses in developing growth plans and ensuring execution. I have clients throughout Western Canada. Contact me at email@example.com