Why short-term strategy isn’t worth fighting for

by Simon Clegg 28 October 2019

Any large-scale organisational change will ultimately demand sacrifices on the part of its people. And when those people get asked to make such sacrifices, the first (and perhaps only) question we always ask is: “is this worth it?” Digital transformation in any business will exact significant sacrifices – of time, resources, attention to other priorities outside the workplace. It certainly has at Ricoh.

How do we show our people that the gain is worth the pain? We don’t – at least, not explicitly. Pep talks and motivational speeches have been notably absent in our offices throughout the digital transformation process.

Instead, I think what convinces us is the investment in what our colleagues Jim and Marcin, who lead Technology & Innovation and Services respectively, call “deep, durable relationships”, built around a long-term vision of how this business will eventually serve its customers and improve the working lives of people much like us. Jim and Marcin, along with other leaders across the business, make their priorities patently clear: family and personal life comes first, business and transformation second. They, and the managers who’ve learnt from them, take the time to have real conversations with their people – not just about work, but about who they are, what motivates them, and how Ricoh can support their situations.

That investment in relationships builds a degree of loyalty that no amount of cheerleading can muster. It means that when sacrifices are required, we commit willingly – knowing that although we might not be compensated financially for the extra, those around us will do their utmost to compensate us in time and support wherever necessary. This trust and loyalty comes with track record built up over months, years, and even decades.

I think such a focus on relationships only becomes possible when you take a long-term view of digital transformation, or any wide-scale change. The longer your perspective, the more latitude you possess to deepen relationships, understand your people, and take the time to build something lasting. A short-term strategy puts too much pressure on your people to allow such relationships to form. And, as a result, it ends up being one that your people are much less likely to fight for, especially at personal cost.

Another of our leaders wrote recently about the old proverb, “If you want to go far, go together”. I’m starting to suspect the converse is also true: if you want to go together, set your destination in the distance. All too often, digital transformation gets caught up in the myopia of technology trends and efficiency dividends. But a purpose that’s worth fighting for takes time to achieve – and our strategy should allow for that.