🧭 Change Leadership challenges: How to overcome the bias toward short-term thinking and inspire effective forward-thinking

"We are all engineering our own futures and the future of others, whether we realize it or not”

Have you ever heard or thought statements like, "Three to give years! That’s too far off, who knows what’s gonna happen??? We can’t plan that far ahead!" So many influences and cues push us toward short-term thinking at the expense of our future effectiveness and impact. So how can leaders cultivate a culture that acknowledges the importance of the future and helps employees at all levels realize their ability to actively engage in shaping it?

Learning Objectives

This change leadership briefing unpacks an approach that can lead to a more resilient, forward-thinking and impactful organization:

  • Address the 3 most costly misperceptions about the future, that are commonly held by business and IT leaders alike.
  • Establish 4 corrective recognitions that can help you and your teams immediately start thinking about the future in a more productive way.
  • Share 8 powerful habits for creating a proactive culture in your organization.

Here are three of the most costly misperceptions we have about future planning.

🚫 Misperception #1. That we have no power over the future.

The reality is our actions and decisions are shaping the future every day. The future profitability of our company, the future health of our customers, the net promoter scores of our future products - all of these are being decided by today's actions and decisions.

🚫 Misperception #2. That we have no knowledge of the future.

3 to 5 years from now there are some things you can be quite certain about:

  • The new platforms and system migrations that you are implementing now will still be running five years from now and your customers will be using them for better or for worse.
  • The same can be said about those systems that you keep intending to retire, and you have not. They will most likely also still be running 3 to 5 years from now (and yes, they'll be impacting your financial health and customers). This is the safest bet until you begin creating a culture that systematically questions, culls, and retires things in pursuit of focus.
  • 3 to 5 years from now you will not be able to pivot any more than you are able to pivot today unless you intentionally invest in transforming your organization into a pivot-capable organization. Perfect example: execs are abuzz about what they're doing to do with GenAI. The reality for 86% of them: They're not ready do anything with GenAI. This was determined two or more years ago when they decided not to invest in building an ability to pivot into unforeseen opportunities like GenAI. The only decision open to them now is, do they want to be a pivot-capable company two years from now?

🚫 Misperception #3. Thinking about the future is less valuable than thinking about the near term.

Sometimes we inadvertently shut down people and improvement opportunities because we deem certain things irrelevant - because in the moment they don't seem as important as today's urgencies. Acting as if near-term urgencies are the only things that matter is a form of proximity bias, and it doesn’t serve as well.

Corporate cultures can sometimes penalize or discredit people for thinking ahead.

"So and so is always like five years in the future."

Ok sure, maybe they need coaching. But maybe the real issue is that you're running five years behind in the way you operate, design products and treat your customers! Maybe you need to reframe: Maybe this person isn't out of touch. They're actually more in touch. They’re not thinking five years in the future per se; they’re just realizing how things should be working today and it bothers them that we’re missing our target.

So how do we stop squashing people's conscientious motivations, and start channeling them to effective action that drives a better future? There are 3 recognitions that can help correct our errant thinking and get us on the right track.

4 Crucial recognitions that will guide us toward more effective thinking about the future

There are three crucial recognitions that will help you and your team better understand the appropriate way to think about the future and plan more effectively. Thinking ahead is not daydreaming. It is not using your imagination, or crystal-balling some fake future that will probably never happen.

  • Thinking ahead is taking more seriously our responsibility to understand the unfolding implications of today’s decisions and actions. You have a responsibility to understand how our decisions and actions this month, this quarter, and this year, will impact our customers for years to come.
  • Thinking ahead is likewise taking more seriously the responsibility to understand how we got to where we are today, and how to not end up in this same place 3 years from now. What choices, what neglect, what preferences or behaviors created the current realities we're unhappy about, and what has to change if we're going to be in a better place in the future?
  • Thinking ahead is being realistic about how long impactful outcomes actually take. It takes on average 5 years for a new capability to achieve a measurable ROI. It can be frustrating to realize that you are x years behind, or x years from realizing a desired ROI or impact. But denying the reality and burying ourselves in near-term urgencies won't help.
  • Thinking ahead is recognizing that the way we do our jobs today directly extends or limits the benefits that our customers are able to experience tomorrow and far into the future. We are all engineering our own futures and the future of others, whether we realize it or not.

These 4 recognitions give you a starting point for correcting the bias toward near-term thinking and setting up habits for effective forward-thinking.

8 Powerful habits for enabling a culture of effective forward-thinking

The realities of the 21st century demand that leaders work to build a corporate culture of effective forward-thinking: one that is comfortable with future-oriented proactive thinking and recognizes the long-term impact of today's decisions and actions. Here are 8 habits for fostering effective thinking and planning for the future:

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