Military and Strategic Journal
Issued by the Directorate of Morale Guidance at the General Command of the Armed Forces
United Arab Emirates
Founded in August 1971

2020-06-07

Implementing Strategy: Managing Time

By: Dr. John R.Ballard

As the current COVID-19 crisis shows all too well, responding strategically to any crisis requires leaders to judge Time and its effects over the longer term. Time must also be actively managed during execution, or even the best strategies will fail. Luckily, there are some proven techniques that help leaders prevent their nations from falling prey to the “ravages of Time” during a crisis. 
 
The Greek philosopher Theophrastus once wrote: “Time is the most valuable thing a man can spend.” Yet, from the strategic perspective Time is very difficult to judge. Most commonly, Time is considered the same, as a constant, for all competitors. But strategists understand that different nations have unique perceptions of Time. This is most evident in the “long duration” views of Time held by the Chinese and the “short duration” Time perspectives of many Americans. Most other nations fall somewhere in between. Generally, using a longer Time horizon during planning (if it can be managed in execution) produces a more effective strategy.
 
Because threats posed by other entities (nations, groups or diseases) do not necessarily follow an agreed Time standard (days, weeks, months), or because some threats intentionally deceive their opponents, and even due to the fact that some threats are so novel that leaders we can only speculate about how Time will affect them, analysing Time during a crisis is very challenging. We deal with such challenges by making smart assumptions. All national leaders made assumptions about the Time the novel coronavirus would take to reach their populations and the Time that the virus would impact their nation’s people and healthcare systems. Some assumptions proved more accurate than others and saved lives. Good assumptions accurately fill gaps in knowledge.
 
There are two other best practices that also relate to Time. The first is that leaders should distinguish the essential from the important. It seems obvious and perhaps easy conceptually but informing others on a regular basis about the essential tasks that must be done can help every member of even the largest organisation make more effective decisions. The second best practice calls for leaders to focus consistently on what needs to be done to accomplish the strategic goal, not just react to the issues of the current day (distractors). Without a reminder to focus strategically, organisations can be overcome by the huge amount of daily problems they face and fail to accomplish what is most important.
 
Nothing can fully prepare leaders to deal with the complexities of Time in every crisis, but these techniques can at least reduce the risk associated with making such decisions. The other best insurance for decision-making during a crisis is to develop a creative mindset and critical analysis skills among leaders and their staff members, so that strategies can be both robust and flexible, with options to deal with any Time factor. 
 
Dealing with Time must always employ approaches that match the particular circumstances of the current crisis, but managing it effectively is always crucial, particularly for a globally engaged economy like that of the UAE.
 

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