short term obsession

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How Short Term Results Obsession Damages Business Productivity

The heat is turned up, the pressure is building, the board or your boss is pushing  for action. For many of us the last economic down turn  was  a memorable struggle that tested our short term vs long term priorities.

Do the values on the wall of the corporate headquarters really matter? Do those speeches during orientation or at the annual staff gathering really count?

There is usually a big gap between the short term, not exactly values driven solutions and  the long term goals.  The short term is very seductive. We can report action, it quiets the acute noise in our brain and it can be justified as needed or necessary to serve an often narrow and sometimes self serving purpose.

It is not that we don’t understand it is a short term solution. Or even that we not able to figure out a long term plan that might be more aligned with our values.

The problem is we  lack the courage, discipline or durability to live our values through these very tight spots.

The Easy Way Out

For example, what happened in your organization when everything slumped in 2008?

The most noticeable and widely reported is the rapid move to push the “delete the people”  button . Short term thinking market  analysts like it, short term thinking stockholders like it, and the only ones hurt are those faceless names that roll up to the 300 or 3000 positions to be eliminated.

Right? Not really.

The damage is much larger. The distribution of the pain goes far beyond the 300 or 3000 who will feel angry and abandoned. The rest of the staff are left worrying when the next shoe will drop and  wondering will they be under it. Even the most trusted, high performing, frequently praised of your staff will start to wonder if the company mantra about the staff being the most important asset, is anything but words.

Delete people  and the remaining people worry. Delete a department, and remaining departments left will worry. And not just for a day or a week. Months and even years later staff will remember what they perceive the culture to be.

The Unseen Damage

You might ask, won’t this motivate the remaining staff to work harder to make sure they are not in the next group to get pushed out when that inevitably happens?

No. A large study evaluating many studies on the topic  by G Williams said the most common change is towards less, not more, motivation. With that, it should not surprise us  (study from Leadership IQ) that personal productivity, customer service, staff willingness to endorse their company and even the quality of the companies products all declined.

The short term gain would seem to pail in comparison to these bigger effects on the majority of the hundreds or thousands left behind.  The long term risk is that the staff will feel left behind and their efforts will result in the organization being left behind.

But aren’t leaders required to protect the shareholders value you may ask?

Sure that is part of the the expectation but there is no law that says you are required to do short term drastic interventions that hurt long term productivity and therefore company valuation.

What Makes it Worse

Moreover, large bonuses to executives that make these cuts are often called unfair and crippling to the organization. I will not take on the fairness of a tiny portion of a work force making huge profits while others suffer, but point that the monetary impact of the extra payout will be tiny compared to the potential long term deleterious effect on morale, efficiency, and innovation.

Now we have the double hit….the deleting of those stated to be our most valuable and the agony of knowing the senior group got paid for inflicting the pain on your colleagues. Do we really think that people just recover and move on ? The research above and many others all point  to the short term win of ” workforce reduction”  may be fast and efficient but long term it will be ineffective.

The long term view is beyond the next quarterly financial report, beyond the next election, beyond the next semester. The long term requires a more nuanced plan and  more disciplined preparation and follow through effort.

It Begins With Courage

But first it takes courage. Courage to decide and declare that there is no easy short term way out of the problem. That the easy and short term plans are bad for-people and you want to engage them in helping with the solution rather than deleting them.

It takes courage to stare into the squinted eyes of boards or stockholders and say this play will be good for the long term despite the short term struggles.We know this is a better path, it is just a harder path. We have all felt the consequences of short term thinking by our businesses, governments, or communities.

…And Discipline

Courage is a good start, but you need discipline to follow through. Hope and empty promises are not long term plans. If you are not going to take the easy and quick fix you must have a plan, follow through, prove your results and demonstrate success and momentum that would not have happened without this long term, disciplined approach.


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