Monday, August 6, 2012

Will Your Business Strategy Leave a Legacy?

When asked, what would you like your legacy to be? Richard Branson is quoted as saying, “to have created one of the most respected companies in the world. Not necessarily the biggest,” But in general it seems to be a question that is rarely thought about and even less discussed in today’s business world. I wonder why that is? Is it that it can appear arrogant to talk about things we’d like to leave behind or is it that it makes us think of our own mortality? Or is it that we are so busy looking at short-term strategies and surviving day-to-day that it doesn’t even make a blip on our radar screens?
Some will argue, of course, that leaving a legacy isn’t as important as how we ‘do business today’, where “time is a companion that goes with us on a journey. It reminds us to cherish each moment, because it will never come again. What we leave behind is not as important as how we have lived.”
But with the constant churn of unethical business practices, seemingly becoming the rule rather than the exception - maybe we need to focus on leaving a positive business legacy that can actually help organisations create long-term sustainable business strategies and sustainable growth.
There’s no doubt that globally we need organisations that can be sustainable and able to generate new ‘secure’ employment for our increasing workforce. We need ‘regulated’ financial services that can support business and look long-term, as well as short-term. We need more than just good leadership, we need great leadership; people who can motivate and invigorate the innovative ideas that will grow business around the world and inspire their staff to be the best they can be. And as William Shakespeare said “no legacy is so rich as honesty.”
Maybe part of the problem is that organisations, or rather business owners, are losing sight of their ‘long-term’ vision, as they are forced to develop short-term strategies to compete. Thirty years ago strategic plans were developed for three to five year windows, but that time scale has dramatically changed since then with the development of the ‘global’ economy - where today most strategies look at 12 month windows, with some in the technology sector being so dynamic that their strategies are developing and changing on a real-time basis.
The problem with this, from the legacy perspective, is that your ‘long-term vision’ encompasses your business legacy as well, but if your vision is no longer long-term, it’s possible that you’re not ‘defining’ a legacy at all.
What seems to have happened is that short-term strategies have replaced long-term visions, meaning that the overall future objective is lost as organisations ‘squabble for the moment’. But organisations, regardless of size, need both; short-term strategies that focus on the ever changing market, and long-term visions that set the long-term objectives for the organisation. The purpose then of short-term strategy is to ensure the organisation is on the right path to meet their long-term vision and associated objectives, which is where the legacy will be found.
Henry Ford, for example, was both a visionary and a realist, and an excellent example of strong creative tension. In most organisations, when the tension on that rubber band is too much, we do one of two things: We either lower our vision or we overestimate current reality. Ford's vision made him famous. He believed there could be a car in front of every house; and he saw what had to happen to get there.
Ford's process vision was based on the continuous and waste-free flow of material all the way from the iron ore mine to the customer. His people vision was based on a capable, trained and motivated workforce that worked in a coordinated way and was also able to afford the products that the factory made. Any one piece of that vision was incomplete; together they were dynamite. His legacy may not have been fulfilled by all organisations around the world, but his vision is the right one to follow and his ‘legacy statement’ one to be admired.
But the question remains – in today’s hectic global marketplace have you lost sight of your future vision and in doing so have you lost your focus on leaving a legacy that will make a positive difference, however small that difference may be? Legacy and sustainable growth ‘are joined at the hip’. Organisations must have a long-term goal, even if to get there they need dynamic short-term strategies, and in striving to get there you define your legacy, whether as an individual or as a whole organisation.

“If your actions create a legacy that inspires others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, then, you are an excellent leader” - Dolly Parton.

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