It’s one of the most pervasive and crippling problems afflicting the workplace: the tendency among employees to cut corners and pursue “quick wins” that will enable them to look good in the short-term. In my work as an executive coach, I see it on a weekly basis. Executives offer side agreements to customers in order to close deals more quickly, they overwork their employees in order to achieve their quarterly OKRs, they neglect to conduct the required due diligence in order to speed decision making, and they pollute the environment in order to bring their products to market more quickly, to name but
a few examples.
The most accomplished and successful leaders, however, avoid cutting corners.
They recognize that the process of building a sustainable, thriving business is a marathon, not a sprint. Rather than pursue impressive short-term public indicators of success, they consistently make decisions that position their company for long-term growth and prosperity. As former associate Supreme Court justice Louis Brandeis once remarked, “There are no shortcuts in evolution.”
1. Scrutinize executive churn levels
The average churn rates among C-Suite level employees have plummeted in recent years. According to research by Korn Ferry, the average tenure among C-suite executives is a mere five years. Frequent leadership changes at the top cause a severe lack of continuity of direction and strategy and, in turn, often prove unsettling for employees.
The most effective leaders are well attuned to the levels of executive churn at their company. They recognize that high executive churn levels can wreak havoc on company morale. Janice Reals Ellig, Co-CEO of executive search firm Chadick Ellig, explains,
“When employees have three different leaders in three years, it's disruptive and damaging to morale. If strategy keeps changing, there can be no progress or meaningful results. Employees who are constantly asked to take on new projects while others are abandoned will not produce a quality product. Trust is lost and complacency sets in."
Employees who are constantly asked to take on new projects while others are abandoned will not produce a quality product. Trust is lost and complacency sets in.”
As a leader, it’s important to keep a close watch on executive-level churn rates. High churn rates directly impact the bottom line. When employees are complacent and disengaged, their performance levels plummet. Research by the Queens School of Business revealed that organizations with low employee engagement levels experience 18% lower productivity levels, 16% lower profitability levels, 37% lower job growth rates, and 65% lower share price over time as compared to organizations with higher employee engagement levels. Having spent many years working in industry as a senior leader, I’m in a unique position to help my clients understand the far-reaching impacts of executive churn and develop a roadmap to ensure that retention levels remain high. It’s not worth it to cut corners and fail to devote adequate time to retaining your executives and other employees.
2. Consider your environmental and social responsibility efforts
Far too many executives fail to appreciate the importance of their environmental and social responsibility actions. They exploit workers in underdeveloped countries and emit potent pollutants into the atmosphere, for example, in an effort to improve the bottom line. The most effective leaders, however, recognize that they have an obligation to adopt a philanthropic mindset. Consider, for example, CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo’s decision to discontinue selling cigarettes in an effort to “help people on their path to better health”. The decision resulted in a significant short-term hit to earnings, to the tune of an estimated $2 billion.
While responsibility efforts often prove costly in the short term, they tend to pay off in the long term. According to research by Double the Donation, 55% of consumers are willing to pay more for products sold by socially responsible companies. Equally impressive is the fact that almost 60% of employees who are proud of their company's social responsibility efforts are engaged in their jobs. Employees (especially millennials and Gen Z workers) want to work for philanthropically-minded companies that care about the greater community.
3. Focus on the long-term time horizon
The most effective leaders focus on the long-term horizon when planning and reporting. Research by McKinsey found that companies that manage for the long-term achieve faster growth rates, experience higher levels of profitability, and generate more jobs as compared to companies that manage primarily for the short-term.
It's imperative that executives make necessary short-term sacrifices in order to adopt a long-term vision. Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School and the author of “MOVE: Putting America’s Infrastructure Back in the Lead”, explains, “[G]reat companies are willing to sacrifice short-term financial opportunities if they are incompatible with institutional values. Those values guide matters central to the company’s identity and reputation such as product quality, the nature of the customers served, and by-products of the manufacturing process.”
As a former executive leader, I understand the cognitive challenges associated with adopting a long-term focus. With investors and shareholders demanding quarterly short-term results, it can be difficult to resist the temptation to adopt a short-term mindset. My leadership background enables me to effectively arm my clients with the set of tools and tactics they require to gain a 360-degree view of their organization and understand the immense strategic value associated with adopting a long-term mindset. As Helen Keller reminds us, “The most pathetic person in the world is someone who has sight but no vision.”
As a time-strapped executive, it can be tempting to cut corners. It’s important to resist the temptation. While the strategy may lead to short-term boons, it often backfires in the long term. The geometry is rather simple. If you start to cut corners, you're bound to wind up moving in circles.
Nadine Greiner, Ph.D. provides Executive Coaching and Human Resources solutions. Her mission is to make the executive experience exceptionally enjoyable and effective. She believes that the world needs great leaders, and has dedicated her career to helping them.
As an organization psychologist and former corporate CEO, Dr. Nadine understands the pressures and demands executives face. She offers her clients the high expertise that only comes with three decades of consulting success, and a dual Ph.D. in Organization Development and Clinical Psychology. Dr. Nadine is an in-demand speaker, teaches in doctoral programs, and coaches other consultants. She is the author of two books: ‘The Art of Executive Coaching: Secrets to Unlock Leadership Performance’, and of ‘Stress-less Leadership: How to Lead in Business and in Life’. amazon.com/author/nadinegreiner
Contact Information: Feel free to email Dr. Nadine San Francisco Executive Coaching at