Conquering Short-Termism Leadership – Right Where You Are

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Leaders understand the importance of striking a balance between short-term wins and long-term goals to grow a thriving business and run a healthy organization.  However, the reality is that many leaders are caught up in the day-to-day fire drills, weekly operations mandate and quarterly shareholders’ earnings expectations, leaving little room nor headspace to innovate for the future. The 5 years or 3 years or even annual plans are often the elaborate, intellectually sound and visually appealing documents that are kept in the drawers, or rather “archive folders” nowadays.

This was an area that I personally struggled with during my time at Microsoft & Dell: delivering on the quarterly metrics while securing resource investment in initiatives that have little near-term returns but accrue towards greater, longer-term success for our customers, people and business!

By the way, you can’t escape this conundrum by escaping the corporate world.  Today as an entrepreneur, keeping multiple wheels moving to bring in near-term cash + predictable revenue + sustained profits, are the juggles that I face every day.  The difference is that there’s no complex stakeholder set nor head-spinning approval loops in order to decide on the trade-offs and priorities in my business.

Leadership fixated on the short-term is an urgent and expensive problem.  If you’re currently operating in such an organization, look around and you will see:

·      High turnover of top management due to missing short-term performance targets

·      Silo-ed organization as teams are focusing on hitting their own team metrics where their incentives are tied to

·      Fear, uncertainties & doubts due to fluctuating “priorities of the quarters” and compensation schemes

·      Disengaged employees as budgets in training & development, productivity tools, human capital are cut, to meet annual targets

·      Lack of loyalty as employees see that they’re easily dispensable based on short-term results


In the fast-changing world we’re in, having short-term focus with tangible targets, frequent wins and rewards are critical to the stability and viability of the business.  But a company run on a short-term orientation will eventually suffer the increased cost of capital, decreased innovation capability and competitive edge.  An entity that has gone on too long without good nutrition, sleep and recovery.

So what can you do, right where you’re?

You may be leading a big team within an even bigger organization, where the center of universe is outside of your home region. Still, there are things you can do, that’s within your authority and sphere of influence, to counter the negative impact of short-termism leadership.  Here are 4 pragmatic steps you can take right away:


1.     Review your existing planning process

Your quarterly operations planning is not the same as strategic planning.  Commit time for long-range planning.  And use your strategic plan as the base for your short-term plans.

2.     Incorporate long-term goals and compensation schemes into your performance management system 

Even if you’re not able to effect change in the organizational-wide, functional-specific comp plan immediately, get creative, use your discretionary budget and available resources - to celebrate the right behavior and initiatives that enable long-term strategic goals.

3.     Assess your existing talent tool 

Determine the desired talent profile and the key skills gaps to meet long-term business strategy.  And plan your recruitment and people development investment accordingly.  Quantify the projected missed opportunities to support your business case.

4.     Install a system or process to keep the long-term perspective in sight

What can you do to make sure you don’t get sucked into the daily grinds and lose sights of the vision & mission? It could be 1-2 key strategic questions to ask at every budget review meeting or setting up an accountability system in your work group. 

Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy are the noise before defeat. ~ Sun Tzu