Hitting Our Numbers, Missing the Mark

Here is this month’s piece from Brand Velocity, an Atlanta-based consulting firm that is putting Peter Drucker’s ideas into practice at major corporations.

Peter Drucker taught us that “the long term is not simply the adding up of short terms.” Yet in practice, it is extremely difficult for leaders and managers to balance short-term interests and long-term visions, since there is such intense pressure to deliver budgeted results and so little breathing room in today’s fast-changing economy.

The hard truth is, achieving short-term results is what people are paid to do. Hitting our numbers is our job, and this kind of performance often brings with it the right to keep our job. Yet to be competitive over time, most people also realize that if organizations don’t invest in the long-term, future results will be compromised.

In other words, managers across all sectors of society—business, nonprofits and government—are making a mistake that Drucker might have characterized as “doing things right” but not “doing the right things.”

I recently had the opportunity to join a small group of executives on the subject of U.S. competitiveness, led by Jan Rivkin of Harvard Business School. Along with that of his colleague Michael Porter, Rivkin’s work on competitiveness is very comprehensive and makes clear that our troubles are widespread. We are beset by federal budget deficits, a weak job market, a dearth of skilled labor, major deficiencies in public education, a broken immigration system, crumbling infrastructure, too little clean energy, flat incomes for all but the richest among us, burdensome regulations that stifle innovation and myriad other challenges.

Rivkin’s conclusion is compelling: We have many long-run structural challenges and are jeopardizing the future by trying to sustain the illusion of prosperity in the short-run.

With this Drucker Exchange post, let’s begin a serious conversation on long-termism vs. short-termism. The future often belongs to thoughtful optimists. So, if you could change one thing to build stronger business and non-business institutions in America for the long term, what would this one thing be?

Jack Bergstrand is the founder of Brand Velocity, author of Reinvent Your Enterprise and creator of the Strategic Profiling tool and Action Planning process. He can be reached at jb@brandvelocity.com.