Change is necessary when doing business. But, does frequent shifting in directions and changing of priorities always help us in reaching our goals?
Throughout my career, I have seen more than a few great strategies fail. And the reason for that failure was, almost exclusively, the inability of the leader to resist changing objectives and priorities.
Sure, change is inevitable. Agility is crucial for success. Still, I cannot help but think that it has become the perfect excuse. Seems like the “agile” buzzword is becoming a convenient justification for organizations and leaders not being strong enough to resist their urge for quick wins.
And it’s so easy – all they have to say is that they’re being agile. Then, suddenly, they have the perfect excuse for the inability to stick to long-term goals but also for the absence of a long-term strategy.
And then again, the dynamic that comes from an agile approach can make all the difference for some organizations.
What happens when you mistake your cravings and ability to easily spot low-hanging fruits for agility…?
From my experience, an agile approach can be a brilliant companion to a clearly defined long-term strategy. Yes, it does play a significant role in doing business. But only as long as your business plan consists of both long-term goals and also strategies for maintaining consistency.
Here are questions for reflection: How do you plan to resist the longing for quick victories, when it doesn’t serve you? How will you know when a quick win comes at too high of a price? And, most importantly, how will you hold your ground against sacrificing long-term objectives without excusing your behavior as agile?
Focusing only on the short-term and an exclusive desire for quick wins inevitably leads to organizations sacrificing their sustainability.
Here’s the thing: exclusively focusing on the short-term and the inability to gain perspective on the long-term go hand in hand with dire consequences. Those consequences involve sacrificed resources, which can be material, non-material, and most of all human.
That’s what makes the price of quick wins too high.
One excellent example of this price is a high turnover rate of high-performers and high-potentials. Frequent shifting directions, changing priorities, and sacrificing long-term more often than not will lead them to burnout while playing catch-up with the quick-win ambitions of their organizations’ leaders. Experiencing burnout makes them wonder do they stay or do they go? And as a responsible leader, you definitely don’t want your best ones to wander around that topic.
When a leader then excuses their unfocused behavior by saying that they’re applying an agile work approach. The whole organization falls into a state of delusion. Everyone starts believing how they’re doing the right thing. And, as one of my clients said: “everyone’s running around like a chicken with its head cut off, trying to meet expectations and collect all possible low-hanging fruits.”
So how do you know when to stop? How do you give up the adrenaline rush that comes with quick wins?
Does your ability to be agile, to achieve quick wins show that you utilize your resources well? What are the risks of you focusing too much on the short-term? What’s the price you’re paying?
When you’re only interested in quick victories, agile makes for the perfect shortcut to failure.
Look at the short-term vs. long-term as two plates of a balance scale measuring your success. It doesn’t matter what you put on either. But, how do you achieve equilibrium?
What can help you achieve the balance?
Try doing the exercise below.
First, answer these 3 questions:
- What’s good when we focus on the short-term?
- What do you gain by keeping your eye on the long-term?
- What are the benefits of each?
My answers would be as follows.
When we focus on the short-term, the positives we get are quick reactions and adaptation to the rapid changes in the market, quick, unforeseen wins that bring new resources we need for further growth, we are ensuring to stay attractive for our stakeholders. And, when we do too much of it, we risk becoming overwhelmed with change. We experience change fatigue. Moreover, we start drifting away from our purpose and long-term goals. Plus, we risk endangering our integrity.
The positive about focusing on the long-term is having the knowing what direction we have to take to achieve the mission. We know how to retain our uniqueness. We are sure to stay true to our organizational values. This stability also benefits us by minimizing unnecessary risks. The other side to the coin when we only focus on the long-term are risks of becoming too rigid, and blind to spotting new opportunities. We risk not remaining relevant in our market by neglecting its emerging needs.
What would you add or change? What are the benefits and drawbacks of each side of the balance scale in your case?
Once you have these answers, it’s time for the next step:
Map out your “warning signals”. These signals should tell you not that you’ve put too much pressure on one side of the scale but that you are about to do so! They should warn you that you are about to create disbalance.
Finally, determine what actions you’ll have to take that will prevent your organization from being in disbalance. OR, if you are already there, what does it take to redistribute the weight?
The VUCA world requires businesses to be agile if they want to succeed. Continually following all stakeholders’ needs coupled with the willingness to make quick changes in direction are the two crucial elements of sustainable leadership. However, when agility is an excuse for not caring about long-term goals it’s a shortcut towards an unsustainable one.
What’s your experience in achieving balance when investing in short-term and long-term goals?