Long-termism and the conflict of projects

“Future proofing” an organisation is often the business driver for change, whether supporting business growth or organisational restructure. However, the reality is that the behaviours and decisions made during this process are often at odds with the long term goals. We need to think of effective long term strategies which don’t turn into short term flurries of misplaced activity, or that require rework – adding additional costs to the business.

As we approach the new year, consider the following situation: An organisation is preparing for 2016 and as such, has decided to take stock of where they are now, where they want to be, and how they will get there. Their transformation focusses on implementing some long term solutions and their next step is to break the vision out into smaller, more manageable plans, This brings other challenges, for instance, using contractors or incentivising staff on the short term objectives of a project may mean that there is a lack of interest to carry through long term goals. Suddenly, these longer goals fade as short term priorities come to the fore. This can be a frequent problem, so how do we avoid losing touch with the long term?

At the 2015 Sustainable Brands conference in London, a number of big businesses demonstrated how they were embedding long term sustainability strategies at the very core of their business. Mondel─ôz, a multinational food conglomerate, has focussed on creating sustainable farming through their Harmony Charter. The charter is drawn from 49 sustainable agriculture practices which encompass principles of partners, practices, biodiversity and traceability. Long term goals were set, to take the principles of sustainability from seed to crop to biscuit, and have involved 1460 farmers across western Europe. Moreover, the results are promising; they project that at the end of this year, 75% of their western European biscuits will be made with Harmony wheat.

In June, Adidas launched a new pair of trainers at the United Nations headquarters. In partnership with Parley, an organisation dedicated to protecting the oceans, the trainers are made from recycled ocean plastic and netting which continues to threaten protected ocean species. But what long term goals do Adidas seek? Aside from increasing their brand image and increasing product visibility, the launch speaks of a wider concern for Adidas about sourcing product materials in the future.

The exact amount of plastic in the oceans is difficult to quantify, however some estimates show figures as high as 12.7m metric tonnes. Almost incomprehensible in magnitude, and yet as the cost of plastic manufacturing is linked to rising oil prices and other raw materials, the ocean plastic may become a viable new source of material for organisations such as Adidas.

All projects need short term milestones to incrementally make their goals achievable, but where projects consistently focus on the short term without connecting these to the long term; and on cheap and quick solutions, often associated with short term gain, and which they will miss the real value of future proofing their business.

If business transformation projects often start to fundamentally secure the future of the business, we need to consider the examples above to ensure these long term goals are not lost in the process. From farm to factory to consumer, Harmony ensures sustainability traverses the organisation right through the very core of Mondel─ôz biscuit production. Adidas also looks to the future, and the reclamation of plastic pollutants as a viable source of material.

Establishing long term sustainability goals is a priority for modern day business, and when done properly, short term goals will then aid, and not hinder the process. At the conference, Peter Harris, UPS’s Director of Sustainability in Europe said that transforming the way they do business – through long term risk management, cost reduction, brand enhancement – was all innovation and was all about sustainability.

Each of the organisations above have mitigated risks, but simultaneously created new business opportunities and, fundamentally, built these into their transformation agenda to really, truly change the long term outcomes not only for their organisation, but also focusing on global solutions as a whole.


  • Gravatar Julie December 16, 2015

    Interesting points. The article draws attention to this very real and very human approach

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