The Long Term
post # 344 — April 3, 2007 — a Client Relations, Managing, Strategy post
In much of my recent thinking (and writing) I have observed that our biggest barrier, as individuals and as organizations, is the difficulty in doing what is in our long-term best interest, not just what provides immediate gratification.
This problem comes up again and again. In last weekâ€™s blogpost about How Not to Manage People, Mark D. observed: â€œMy experience tells me that all things being equal most people want to or are at least willing to embrace your teachings but all things are not equal. As soon as your teachings conflict with short term financial gain, people begin to throw out the teachings which they view as costing them money. I know I am skeptical and somewhat jaded but there is no stomach for anything that risks immediate profits.â€
As I tried to point out, this is not about just MY teachings, but is a much broader point. As I argued in Strategy and the Fat Smoker, it is part of the human condition that we can know what to do, why we should do it, and even how to do things for which we fervently desire the benefits. None of that actually predicts that we actually are going to do what we absolutely know is good for us.
Note that itâ€™s not about a lack of incentives: live longer is a pretty good incentive!
I continue to be professionally frustrated by all of this. If we canâ€™t help people start doing what even they say would be best for them, how can we be really helpful?
So hereâ€™s my question: how DO you help people actually get on the program for what is their best interests? The question is relevant if you are a manager trying to coach your subordinates, or if you a consultant or other trusted advisor trying to get a client on the path that is best for him or her.
So what actually works to get people to take the long-term view with their work, their business and their lives?
Rational discourse (logic) doesnâ€™t seem to work consistently well, and providing statistically reliable data doesnâ€™t seem to be persuasive (so much for the Surgeon Generalâ€™s reports!)
In descending order of effectiveness, hereâ€™s my experience in what gets someone (us as well — donâ€™t make this all about THEM) to change from acting in a short-term way to doing what they (already) know is best for them in the long-term:
- Talk up or create the â€œglamourâ€ of the future state (â€œThink of how fabulous itâ€™s going to be when youâ€™re there!)
- Make it a moral principal (Isnâ€™t it consistent with our/your values to act this way?)
- Get us/them to commit themselves to more public disclosure on actions, to keep them/us on track (embarrassment rather than guilt.)
What experiences do the rest of you have? Have you helped a short-term actor become a long-term actor? What REALLY helped / worked to bring about this transition? What gets people on “the diet?”
Mike Hunter said:
In my (very) limited experience, your three methods work, and on occassion I’ve had success with a fourth: creating a small test case — a quick project that illustrates the larger principle. People want a taste of the long term success. So, with exercise, a coach might want to set some goal for 2-3 weeks — a quick gain in strength, for example — that rewards the athlete. You have to remind the person you’re coaching that not all the gains will come this quickly, but a few small, short-term rewards make it easier to commit to the long-term project.
posted on April 3, 2007