How Can You Define Future Success? The Details Are In The Present

I love my Georgia Bulldogs.

In fact, I always thought I was the greatest fan in Dawg Nation because I believed in the promise of the future.  No matter how many ultimately mediocre seasons we endure; no matter how many times we get upset or lose The Big One, I just know that two or three years from now – well, look out Alabama!

Why you shouldn’t be comfortable with defeat

That’s exactly what I told my glum buddies as we headed home from Georgia’s disappointing last-second loss to Tennessee back in October.  While they bemoaned the day’s missed opportunities and looked to assign fault for that day’s loss, I insisted on walking on the sunny side of the street.

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“Guys, this was a good day for us,” I chirped. “We weren’t supposed to be competitive in this game, and we almost beat the better, more experienced Volunteers!  Think about all the recruits who saw that game!  Those kids have to be impressed with our new coach, and the effort he got out of this team.  We’ll sign a few of those elite recruits and be kicking butt in a couple of years.  Go Dawgs!”

My crew looked at me as if I was quite insane, and continued to cry (and rage) into their beer.

I had an epiphany right there in the rented van.  I wasn’t the greatest Dawgs fan. I was a terrible fan because for years I was too willing to believe in a vision of future glory without demanding progress and accountability in the present.  It’s a common trap not just in fandom, but in business management as well.

Why long-term vision isn’t enough

A long-term vision is critical to every organization.  A well-crafted, sharply focused view of the group’s future pulls people together, fosters commitment and inspires team members to do their best work. It provides the organizing principals for planning, goal-setting, budgeting, assigning resources and evaluating work.

But while keeping everyone focused on the vision’s brass ring, the organization’s leaders must also stay grounded in the details of the present.  They must demand steady progress and regular improvement in every aspect of the operation as it pursues the vision.  As soon as she gets off that all-staff conference call to rally the troops towards tomorrow, the true leader will bury herself in this week’s spreadsheets and sales reports.  Without that sort of attention to the present is necessary to ensure the future.

The importance of those annoying due dates

Without a due date, a vision loses its potency.  If the company envisions itself as the industry’s innovation leader in five years but makes only limited progress towards that goal, extending the vision’s shelf life by two or three years is a non-starter.  There will be no buy-in.  So, the leader needs to ensure that progress towards that long-term objective is made in every short-term cycle – every year, quarter, month and day.  Pressing for this kind of progress should also improve the company’s short-term performance on its way to that transformative objective. 

My beloved Georgia Bulldogs haven’t been very good about this stuff.   The vision of winning a National Championship always seems to float just out of reach into the close-but-undefined future on promises of we’ll-get-‘em-next-year and all we need is the right coach/quarterback/offensive coordinator.  In the meantime, we keep losing key games and turning in disappointing seasons.

That’s no way to win a National title, and certainly, no way to run a business.  Of course, National Signing Day is coming up on February 1, and if Georgia can just get this one kid…