August 1, 2014

What if what’s in their best interest……doesn’t interest them?

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A very good post appeared on the FastCompany site yesterday, in which author Ginny Whitelaw declared, “Empathy is the most powerful leadership tool.”

There’s not a lot to disagree with in the article.  It is, essentially, about Covey’s “seek first to understand” and represents both a practical, and I would say moralistic, way to approach your interactions with others.  Seeing things from their point of view is a good thing, of course.  It helps you to understand the other person better, so that you can align your message with their concerns.  It’s a practical exercise for influencing others in any walks of life where negotiation, compromise, and change are necessary.  It also indicates that you have a measure of respect for the other person’s thoughts, feelings, beliefs and opinions.

Unfortunately, there are times when people simply don’t act in a way that is consistent with what is in their best interests.  Especially not in the long term.  It’s as simple as David Meister’s Fat Smoker principle – you have to go through something difficult to get to something good, so change is hard and rarely happens.

Short-term thinking has a psychological basis.  Ronald Riggio wrote a post on his blog last year, linking the economic crisis to “short-termism:”

There is considerable evidence that short-term thinking in business, and in regard to the economy, is disastrous. It is our search for immediate gratification that fuels short-term thinking. Much of the economic meltdown was related to the pursuit of immediate rewards – whether it was the lenders trying to reap profits from questionable loans, or the homeowners who were buying property that was beyond their means.

Here are the danger signs that you are falling prey to short-term thinking.

1. No plan. Companies that don’t engage in long-term planning are prone to failure.

2. Trying for the quick score. Fads and trends come and go, and many businesses and investors that cashed in on the quick score are often gone because they don’t plan for what to do when the fad is gone.

3. Lack of analysis. All too often, what seemed like a good idea at the time, will only turn out to be a bad idea through careful analysis. A lot of terrific business ideas and inventions aren’t successful because the originator didn’t analyze how to get the product made, marketed, and/or delivered.

 

Having done the planning, analyzing and monitoring of budgets for initiatives at one level or another in my career, I have seen each of those three things occur all too often.

Analytics necessitate patience – they require that you take a little longer and examine a feel-good situation to make sure it’s not a long-term disaster in the making.  Unfortunately, we tend to be fat smokers when it comes to planning.  We want the rush of the good stuff first, only to (and often quite intentionally) push the messy, difficult stuff to some later point in time.  Essentially, we want dessert first and we push the broccoli and cauliflower to the end of the meal.  Of course, that just leaves a bad taste in our mouths when we’re done.

So, what can we do to overcome the problem?  I think it’s simple – just as a person who needs to eat better and exercise more will find a way to mix in a little bit of the things they don’t like with the things that they do, so must a business.  Both must learn a simply, but not easy, habit:  saying no.

Saying no to the slice of apple crisp and walking away from the table is much like saying no to what seems like a great investment, but hasn’t been analyzed.  Give yourself time to contemplate and reflect upon the consequences of what you are about to do.  If you are bad at doing that for yourself, put people in place around you who are specifically selected for their ability to disagree with you and make sure you make healthy choices and focus on the longer-term.

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