Catherine Zhu is the managing partner of Egon Zehnder in Hong Kong.
Are daily chores bogging you down? It’s time for bosses to get out of the spreadsheet swamp, says Catherine Zhu
This week I spoke to a CEO on the day of his retirement from a company he had led for many years. I asked him whether there was anything he would have done differently. He didn’t hesitate. I’d take a longer-term view in my decision-making and be less obsessively focused on quarterly and annual performance.”
He mused that, had he taken more time to reflect on long-term trends and brainstorm new business models, his company today might have been a few steps ahead of technologies and competitors that are reshaping the market.
The very next day, I had lunch with another CEO - much younger and at the helm of her company for less than a year. I asked her where she sees her business in five years. But she too is struggling with short-termism: “I’m so busy that I don’t get time to think about the future.” After reviewing weekly and monthly profit-and-loss spreadsheets, she barely has time to work on strategies.
We spoke about what she might do differently. For starters, she could review performance numbers less frequently. Every other week, she could ask her top team to debate longer-term ideas; by changing the dialogue she could shift the horizon.
Meeting thought leaders from outside her industry for a fresh perspective would help her identify the talent needed to improve the business.
Finally, a longer-term view would help her build an inspirational team culture and make the company a place where people come to change the world, not just do a job.
Leaders of organisations know how pressing today’s challenges can be. But if we step beyond the spreadsheets and see the bigger picture, our chances of making a lasting difference are greater.
This article appeared in the Classified Post print edition as Focus on the future.