Asking business leaders to think long term is uncomfortable and, frankly, challenging for them to do successfully. By nature, businesses have to focus on short-term success to stay afloat.
Developing well-thought-out plans for the future tends to be relegated to an after-thought-level exercise.
Still that level of prioritizing is simple enough, provided everything goes according to plan. But as we all know, businesses rarely follow a perfect plan. That's why it's impossible for business leaders to plan for an unforeseeable future. And that's why long-term projects rarely hit their original targets.
Amazon is one major company that has never shied away from strategic thinking. The online empire regularly invests in the future of young companies via technology, instead of solely marketing currently available products. The Amazon Web Services Pro-Rata Program, just announced in March, for instance, is introducing startups to funding opportunities from family offices and venture capitalists. Now, more than a decade old, the program counts Lyft and Slack among its success stories.
The entity behind this introduction program, Amazon Web Services, is already more than a decade old -- it was founded in 2006 -- and provides on-demand cloud computing platforms to individuals, companies and governments, on a metered pay-as-you-go basis.
Companies might want to follow Amazon's lead by similarly committing to long-term strategies. Of course this route isn't always sunny: Such companies face potential organizational, and sometimes even political, pressure. But the potential spoils are enormous for these brave renegades. With major companies like Blockbuster, Polaroid, Toys R Us and others shutting down -- permanently or temporarily -- because they were unable to plan for the long term, being strategically driven rather than tactically driven may be what ultimately keeps their doors open.
Look ahead to get ahead.
Adopting a strategically driven mindset takes willing and gutsy leadership. When you’re under constant pressure to show short-term shareholder value, it's hard to justify decisions that are tied to potential gains instead of actual ones.
The difference between the two approaches is clear, however. Where tactically driven leaders seek short-term rewards, strategic leaders constantly act in the moment to secure future profitability and sustainability. In a business landscape that never stops evolving, those leaders will rise when the dust settles.
Want to be one of those strategically driven companies? To shift from tactics to strategies, you need to put your brave face on and adopt these three practices:
1. Commit to being extraordinary.
Risk creates feelings of anxiety, which a dose of positivity can nip in the bud. In a study published by the journal Behaviour Research and Therapy, researchers found that positive thinking has a remedial effect on anxiety. The same is true in business: Customers respond to positivity because it implies that a company is committed to making them happy.
When facing the pressure of the bottom line, companies should release the idea of failure and commit to being extraordinary. Once they have successfully achieved this mindset, they can default to positivity and expect to win, not out of misplaced arrogance but simply out of sheer will. Letting go of fear and exuding confidence to clients is an invaluable skill when a company is engineering a long-term strategy.
2. Know who's going to get you there.
Believe it or not, human capital is one of the most overlooked resources by long-term strategists. It's one reason that successful companies continually invest in both hiring and training. People carry your long-term strategy, so make sure they have the knowledge and resources they need to build your vision.
Firms that invest heavily in people discover that their long-term success skyrockets. Invest in human capital through continued education and professional development. Look for courses, workshops and other resources that mght better align your staff with your future plans. Doing so will better prepare them for anything your strategic vision sends their way.
3. Get into the trenches with your clients.
Customer-centricity is not a new phenomenon. We may understand the need for exceptional customer experience, but we rarely execute it successfully. An Econsultancy survey asked business leaders to identify the most important quality for building a “digital native” culture -- and 58 percent chose customer-centricity.
Think about how to strategically deliver your own long-term wins for your customers instead of short-term successes focused on your bottom line. When pitching new strategies to clients, don't sell them on something you wouldn't enact in your own company. Treat them as an extension of your staff, and you will begin to demonstrate the true value of a long-term investment in your company. If your success is tied to clients or customers, they should know you're committed to seeing your strategy through to the end.
By challenging yourself to become more strategically driven, you can bring new insight and energy into your client relationships. Show clients that you’re in it for the long haul and that you’re acting wisely and swiftly. Do so, and you'll approach long-term strategizing with assertiveness rather than apprehension.
As featured on Entrepreneur