Francis Wade | What’s your business legacy?
You don’t normally think for long about the lasting impact your actions have on unknown business colleagues. This is particularly true if they haven’t even been born. But is there a reason to consider far-future generations of leadership in your...
You don’t normally think for long about the lasting impact your actions have on unknown business colleagues. This is particularly true if they haven’t even been born. But is there a reason to consider far-future generations of leadership in your company?
Antonio Guterres, who heads the United Nations, recently wrote a letter to his unborn great-great-granddaughter for delivery in year 2100. He titled it a ‘Climate-Change Apology’ and began with the following question: “Will you open this letter in a spirit of happiness and gratitude — or with disappointment and anger at my generation?”
Guterres further admits that humanity is “losing the fight of our lives: the battle against climate upheaval that threatens our planet”.
But why is he unsure about her reaction? Simple: Today, he sees two paths ahead and doesn’t know which one we will take.
The first leads to a trail of destruction. The other trends to planetary salvation. Given the information, tools, and technology at our disposal in 2023, both are possible.
At the end, he imagines her wondering quietly: “What did you do to save our planet when you had the chance?”
His commitment is familiar to all creators of interwoven short-/long-term strategic plans. As facilitators, we help clients convert game-changing commitments into immediate actions. Here are three steps I employ.
Use today’s gripes
In a typical retreat, I usually ask: What are some of the complaints you have about your organisation that should have been resolved some time ago?
This question opens a floodgate of woes. Sometimes, they stretch all the way back to the inception of the company. In fact, older heads admit that the matters being raised were mentioned in previous meetings just like this one but never addressed.
Then we ask: What decisions did prior executives fail to make 10 years ago that would have prevented or resolved these issues? Twenty years ago? More?
This also unleashes a torrent of suggestions. In fact, it pays to pause before proceeding.
Visit the future
We then have the team envision a strategic planning retreat like this one, but 15 years down the line: What are some of the complaints future leaders may have regarding tough decisions you failed to make today?
Unfortunately, this query is frequently met with horrified silence.
After a few moments of reflection, the answers come out, slowly but surely. But this is a new question for most. Managers spend their days tackling immediate issues and don’t often take a break to consider the distant future in a structured manner.
On occasion, they may speculate over lunch or drinks and bemoan their organisation’s collective lack of foresight. But the next day, they are back in busy mode: ‘We don’t have time to do interwoven short-/long-term planning!’
Pinpoint young person
Finally, if there is a colleague in their twenties in attendance, I point them out by name: ‘Bob is likely to be in that future retreat’.
I add: His colleagues will ask: ‘What happened at that planning meeting in 2023? Couldn’t they see what was happening?’
Just like Guterres, Bob could have two contrasting stories to tell.
One could be a tale of courage: Amazing experience! The executive team put itself at risk, set aside its fears, and made some difficult decisions. Today, we benefit from their wisdom. And everyone applauds.
The alternative story could be one of cowardice and selfishness: They realised there was a problem looming, but they decided to focus only on the short-term issues that affected them.
Why such a contrast?
Some strategic-planning teams fail to address the most salient challenges openly. Instead, they point fingers at the ‘Big Man’, board, government or customers.
Other teams just don’t care. Attendees are coasting into the second halves of their careers and just want to make it into retirement with a pension. They place self before service. So their strategic plans don’t look past three to five years of tactics - the outer limit of their comfort zones.
You may think these are bad people, but nothing could be further from the truth. Instead, they are simply caught in a trap whose mechanics they cannot clearly see. Consequently, they do their best, but it’s not good enough.
In the end, regardless of their motivation, the result is the same: disaster.
Jamaican companies, like many worldwide, are currently rife with short-termism. Blame COVID. Or inflation. Or the war, and so on. As such, our leaders are becoming cynical.
Don’t yield. Challenge them to leave future managers of your organisation with more than a basket to carry water. Instead, ask them to create a legacy of kindness, not in the form of cash, but in the strategic decisions only they can make.
Francis Wade is a management consultant and author of Perfect Time-Based Productivity. To search past columns on productivity, strategy and business processes, or give feedback, email: firstname.lastname@example.org