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Are you balancing the long term and short term?

Most teams and companies do a poor job balancing the short term and long term focus. I see this without exception in most sectors and regions.

People say all the right things about how important it is to focus on the long term. They say things like: “Markets are changing,” “Customers are asking to consume new things in new ways,” “Technologies have advanced and it requires us to advance too,” and “We need to incubate new ideas and the next generation’s products and services.”

They even say things like: “We need to invest in order to make money and grow,” “We need to be prepared to sacrifice some of our short-term in order to gain the benefits of the long-term,” and the ultimate:  “Our future success depends on it.”

However, in reality, they manage things in a very short-term perspective, focus, thinking, and mindset. Furthermore, they judge and rate the health and success of their business based on short-term performance, events, and results and they react to circumstances based on short-term successes or failures.

Leaders and managers often tell me things like: “We say we should be willing to sacrifice our short-term for our long-term, but instead we keep sacrificing our long-term for our short-term.”

For example, if they had a bad month in terms of performance, they stop longer-term initiatives or put them on alert or hold, and they hesitate to invest in and green-light new initiatives. If they had a good month, they tend to let things continue.

The whole point of having a vision and strategy is to provide teams with a framework and context for thinking about the longer-term future of their business. A good strategy for the future should make people comfortable about setting priorities, as well as making choices, decisions, and tradeoffs in the short-term.

An effective strategy also provides teams and leaders with the courage and confidence to invest in a desirable future that they have outlined and articulated in advance, even when, perhaps especially when they have some turbulence and inconsistencies in their short-term performance.

However, it seems that even teams and companies who have a sound strategy have a tough time trusting it, relying on it, and using it to empower themselves to better juggle their long-term and short-term initiatives.

How is your team doing in this regard?