Throughout history, whether a society focuses on long-term or short-term planning often decides its fate. Those who look ahead tend to keep their culture strong and their society together better than those who only think about immediate gains.

From war generals to founding fathers, this sentiment has been captured in many eloquent ways. Including when Sun Tzu said in The Art of War, “The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand.” Or when Benjamin Franklin famously stated, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”

One of these men conquered nations, and the other helped to build one. The fact that they both credit strategic planning as one of the essential ingredients for their success merits a closer look from any leadership team at what these processes entail.

You’ll discover that effective workforce planning is an art form as much as a science. And just as history shows us, getting that chemistry right sets the winners apart from the…well, you know.

This article will help you understand the art of planning within your organization. We’ll define what short-term and long-term planning entails, break down key differences between the two, and discover strategies for implementing each in a balanced way. Let’s begin.

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Difference between long-term and short-term planning

The most distinct difference between long-term and short-term planning is the time frame.

short-term vs. long-term planning

Long-term planning looks at a three to five-year period or even longer; short-term planning covers up to a year. 

This profoundly impacts the goals, KPIs, and projects an organization will choose during each process. That being said, when short-term and long-term planning are leveraged correctly, they always work towards the same vision.

Long-term planning 

Long-term planning determines your organization’s goals in the next five to ten years. Think big. What sustainability, growth, and innovation approach will secure your competitive edge and ensure future relevance? When mapping out your plan, how can you consider market trends, potential disruptions, and strategic opportunities? 

A thorough analysis of your business environment will help you uncover objectives and specific business strategies that align with your organization’s values and vision. Then, by setting relevant Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), you can measure your progress towards them.

Short-term planning 

The goal of short-term planning is to prepare businesses for the near future. It typically includes less than a year and focuses on short-term solutions that serve the organization’s day-to-day needs. 

This planning process is also dynamic by nature and requires constant adjustments. Your focus should be on managing resources, executing projects, and getting quick wins to spur momentum for the organization.

The art of planning

Organizations often need help reconciling the needs of their short-term and long-term plans. This could mean they’re focusing too much on one and not the other. Or that the goals being set are simply in contention with one another.

The art of planning is balancing both short-term and long-term goals, resource allocation, KPIs, and more. Your organization might be subject to changing market dynamics, unforeseeable challenges, and new technologies. You have to stay nimble in the short term without losing sight of the long term. It’s a delicate balancing act.

But according to a study by McKinsey & Company, it’s effective. Organizations that take this balanced approach experience 47% higher revenue growth and 36% higher profitability than companies that focus predominantly on one type of planning over the other. 

Let’s dive a little deeper into the art of planning so you can learn how to implement this balancing act in your own organization.

Time frames in planning

Let’s begin by defining their scope to understand the planning processes better.

Long-term planning time frames

Long-term planning typically covers three to five years but can span as far as decades. Companies will want to consider more significant projects with longer time horizons during this stage in the planning process.

Short-term planning time frames

Short-term planning covers a period of up to one year and is often broken down into quarterly, monthly, and even daily actionable goals and KPIs.

Bridging the gap with medium-term planning

Medium-term planning is another essential function bridging the gap between the immediate actions defined in short-term planning and the blue-sky ambitions of long-term goals.

This type of planning focuses on implementing strategies and initiatives that ensure short-term fixes are not just temporary patches to more significant problems.

For example, an organization might solve a software issue with a quick fix in the short term but secure a service contract with an IT company to receive ongoing maintenance and regular updates as a medium-term approach.

Long-term vs. short-term goals

Long-term goals help to chart a path toward your organization’s future vision. They’re broad and ambitious by nature and include projects such as expanding into new markets, establishing partnerships, and investing in product development. They’re also set over a longer time horizon than short-term goals and often face more risk and uncertainty.

Short-term goals, on the other hand, are about continued progress. When leveraged correctly, they establish momentum for the organization through quick wins and act as stepping stones from short-term success to achieving long-term goals.

Long-term planning in business

Long-term planning takes your organization out of the day-to-day hustle and into the future. Successful organizations start this process with a crystal clear vision in mind. As Jeff Bezos once said, “Be stubborn on the long-term vision but flexible on the details.” Now, how do you begin thinking about those details? First, you have to be able to see the forest for the trees. 

That’s why strategic analysis should form the foundation of your long-term planning process. Here’s what that should look like:

  • PESTEL and SWOT can help you analyze the external market environment and your internal capabilities. 
  • Then, you can leverage this data to begin setting objectives for your organization in alignment with your vision. 
  • After that, establishing the right KPIs will help you measure your progress and develop short-term goals that keep you on track for achieving these broader objectives. 

Let’s look at an example of how a PESTEL and SWOT analysis can be effective in long-term goal setting.

PESTEL Analysis Example

The Pestel Analysis

- Politically 
- Economically
- Socially
- Technologically
- Environmentally
- Legally

We’ll use a fictional technology company called Flowbar in this example. Imagine Flowbar is exploring expansion into a new market and needs to understand the macro-environmental factors. A PESTEL analysis would be the perfect tool. 

  • Politically, they would assess the stability of markets and government regulations.
  • Economically, they would look at economic growth, currency exchange rates, and consumer purchasing power.
  • Socially, they might examine cultural attitudes toward technology, digital literacy, and consumer behaviors.
  • Technologically, factors such as the availability of the proper infrastructure would be necessary.
  • Environmentally, Flowbar should assess regulations and public sentiment towards sustainability practices in their industry.
  • Legally, they would review intellectual property laws, data protection regulations, compliance requirements, and the company’s quality control program.

SWOT Analysis Example

SWOT Analysis

In this example, we’ll continue with Flowbar.

  • Strengths: This could include Flowbar’s strong brand recognition in current markets and its competitive R&D capabilities.
  • Weaknesses: Flowbar will need a more comprehensive understanding of local culture and consumer preferences. Their product offering may also need to be more well-suited to their domestic market, causing a lack of product-market fit in new regions.
  • Opportunities: Rapidly growing economies and new available partnerships are potential opportunities for Flowbar when entering these new markets.
  • Threats: Flowbar should know the competitive and regulatory landscape in the new markets they hope to enter.

After conducting a PESTEL and SWOT analysis, Flowbar will want to ensure any set goals align with its vision and establish clear KPIs for measuring its success.

Short-term planning and its impact

When done correctly, short-term planning addresses the organization’s immediate business needs and challenges while keeping sight of the long-term vision. It involves setting daily, monthly, and quarterly goals that create momentum for the organization and act as stepping stones toward longer-term goals. 

A recommended framework for setting practical short-term goals is SMART goal setting

SMART is an acronym that describes the five essential components of a practical goal.


Let’s take a look at what they are:

  • Specific: Being clear and detailed will help you focus resources and achieve desired outcomes.
  • Measurable: Having KPIs tied to your goals allows you to effectively track your progress towards achieving them.
  • Achievable: Setting realistic and attainable goals will motivate your teams and increase momentum across the organization.
  • Relevant: Short-term goals should always connect to your organization’s long-term objectives. 
  • Time-bound: A precise timeline is crucial for prioritizing tasks and resources and creating a sense of urgency. 

Now that we’ve defined SMART goal setting, let’s look at a real-world example of how to use this framework properly.

Examples of SMART goals

Imagine you’re a software company’s marketing manager wanting to increase monthly product page traffic. A SMART goal would look something like this: 

Increase monthly traffic to the product page by 10% over the next quarter. 

This goal is specific, measurable with standard analytical tools, achievable, relevant to a longer-term goal of increasing market share, and set over a clear time frame of one quarter. 

The SMART framework can be helpful for all kinds of organizations with goals. And now that you’re familiar with how to use it, you’re ready to begin setting short-term goals in your own business.

Balancing long-term and short-term planning

So far, we’ve laid out the difference between a short-term and long-term objective and analyzed the best practices for each. But how do you maintain a balance when implementing them into your organization?

Here are a few well-loved strategies: 

  • Ensure you align the short-term business goals with the long-term objectives and desired outcomes. Failing to do so would result in misallocating time and other precious resources. 
  • Be flexible. The market changes on a day-to-day basis. Short-term goals should remain Agile and adaptable without losing sight of the longer-term goals they’re working towards. 
  • Regularly review and re-prioritize based on stakeholder alignment and available resources. 
  • Foster a culture that values and understands the relationship between short-term and long-term goals.

By implementing these strategies, organizations not only achieve successful results in the short term but also lay the groundwork for sustained growth toward their future vision.

Let’s wrap it up

It’s clear at this point that understanding and balancing long-term objectives and short-term planning is vital for achieving success within your organization. And whether it’s Sun Tzu or Jeff Bezos, we’re not the only ones who think so.

By bringing the art of planning into your organization, you can build momentum toward your long-term goals and vision. The result will be a lasting legacy that puts you on the right side of history’s great strategic organizations.

Category: Time Management