Have you struggled to decide between making time for short term or long term goals? Every leader will face the dilemma of choosing to spend energy on current needs or future vision.
“If I don’t focus on this project now, we won’t hit our target this quarter. But spending time on this project won’t help us in the long run. What do I do?” you ask yourself, pulling your hair.
In this article, we’ll cover:
- How short term results interfere with long term goals
- The reasons why short term goals take priority
- The right way to balance between immediate goals and long term vision
My story of losing track of our vision
A friend and I started our first venture with an aim to build an online software product. Since we did not have the funds to manage the expenses, we started building websites and mobile applications as a service to generate revenue.
Making enough money to keep our business running was our short term goal. But we found ourselves stuck within that mindset. Even when we had pooled in enough capital, we still failed to focus all our attention on the long term goal. Other priorities had derailed our direction, and we made decisions that did not align with our vision.
The greed of making money on the side started kicking in. We started building our product but kept working on these side projects which brought in the bucks. We slowed down our long term goal to allow our short term gains to continue.
Before we could realise, two years had gone by. In the quest for short term results, sales, and revenue, we had lost sight of our long term goals.
As a leader, you often have to juggle between short term necessities and long term vision. But many a time, you can get so deeply engrossed in the immediate targets that you forget where your real destination.
Reasons for chasing short term goals
Here are the three common reasons why leaders focus on the short term goals over the long term targets:
Any business finally boils down to revenue. In a startup, when managing expenses becomes a challenge, leaders scamper to find methods to make money.
Many of those approaches involve wasting tons of time and resources on a task that has nothing to do with the overall vision of the organisation. You cannot always blame the leaders for that, because they intend to keep the business running.
As time goes by, the extra revenue flowing in becomes an expectation. Putting your foot down and choosing the long term goal over the cash coming in isn’t an easy decision to make.
Avoiding challenges and uncertainty
When the long term vision seems hard to achieve, leaders opt for a workaround to sustain the business. Such behavior is like applying duct tape on a leaking bucket. Instead of finding the right solution, a temporary fix seems like an easy solution.
Though you know that you must focus on the vision at some point, you keep postponing the decision. Once you are used to the current routine, you feel anxious about making a change.
“What if I try taking a risk, and we lose what we already have? What if the business collapses?” you ask yourself, breaking into a sweat. Chasing the long term vision is a challenge in any organisation. Inching closer to the target requires stepping outside of your comfort zone and overcoming the obstacles on the way.
The fear of uncertainty and the difficulty of the treacherous path can lead to an attitude of sticking to what you already have.
How to avoid the trap of short term goals
Striking a balance between long term and short term goals is crucial for a leader. Without enough attention to both those areas, team members can scamper like a herd of sheep without a shepherd. If you do repeat the same behaviour long enough, it can cause the business to go into a downward spiral.
Here are five ways of being stuck in short term goals:
Align all teams towards one unified goal
As a leader, you need to be crystal clear about what your long term vision is. Without that primary step, the rest will turn into absolute chaos.
During various points in our venture, we as founders were unsure what we wanted to pursue. Our fickle mindedness left the team members disorganised and confused.
Once you gain clarity, all the key people in the team must align with the same goal. Unless everyone has one unified goal to chase, people will work on tasks that hardly matter. Each team will work in a different direction which helps neither the team nor the business.
When you make your vision clear, your people will give their heart and soul towards making it a reality.
Measure and discuss progress on the long term vision
We were clear that our goal was to build a product over the long term. Yet, we kept procrastinating. “Let’s start next quarter,” we said again and again. We did nothing to measure and talk about our progress.
Setting the vision is not a one-time activity. If you set it once and forget it after, you will keep postponing the decision. Your people will forget their direction too.
You must measure how close or far you are from your destination. Now and then, you must discuss the progress in public with all your people. Talking about the long term goal and where you stand at the moment serves as a reality check for you and a reminder for your people.
It is an excellent way of realigning the focus of every person involved.
“If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will get you there.”
– Lewis Carroll
Scale only for long term goals
During our venture, we even hired more resources to handle the projects from clients. The extra headcount did nothing to help our long term goals. We wanted the revenue to keep flowing. When the projects dried up, we had more team members than we required.
Do not add people or increase your expenses to achieve your short term goals. It is no different than using steroids to win a sports event. You might achieve some short term results, but it will come back to bite you in the long run.
You must scrutinise any expenses which do not help your long term goals. Sometimes, circumstances can force you to make immediate changes to handle temporary problems. Sure, go ahead, but that should not turn into a habit of making impulsive decisions without thinking of the consequences.
Consider the cost of inaction
The common tendency is to look at what can happen if you fail to meet your short term goals. Usually, the consequences are immediate which causes panic. But leaders often fail to consider the cost of inaction towards their long term goals.
Since the vision is for the long term, you give yourself a false cushion of time. You believe you always have the time in the future to work towards it.
Such decisions when repeated again and again, lead to momentary satisfaction but a lifetime of regret. It is better to handle a pinch right now than dealing with a punch that knocks you out.
Celebrate meaningful milestones
When you make progress on the right goals, take a moment to celebrate. When you rejoice for the right reasons, people understand they’re on the right track and spend more of their energy in that direction.
Leaders make the mistake of setting meaningless short term goals and throw a party when they’re achieved. Such celebrations not only leads to confusion but also encourages people to work towards the wrong targets.
Do not chase vanity metrics for the sake of it. Do not pursue goals you do not care about. Do not decide on a specific date or time to celebrate.
Whenever you feel the team is making great strides towards your destination, take a moment to pause and celebrate. That will only cognitive biases and help them move faster.
The onus of balancing the short term goals with the long term vision always lies on the leader. Keeping the right balance can lead to success while wrong decisions can corrode a business over time.
Next time, you have to choose between short term and long term goals, apply the brakes. Ask yourself what the right balance is and how your decision is helping.
Leave a comment mentioning the challenge you faced between immediate targets and the long term vision.
About the Author
Maxim Dsouza has over who extensive experience with leadership in both start-ups and large corporations. On his blog Productive Club, he shares useful tips on productivity, time management, entrepreneurship, and cognitive biases.