My apologies to my non-American readers….this phrase is one often used in American baseball.  It refers to a batter trying to hit the ball over the fence (a home run) and score a run with one swing by him/herself (and be the hero), instead of simply trying to get on base and build a run with the other members of the team.  For your information, the odds of hitting a home run is 1 in 35.  The odds of getting a hit is 1 in 4…almost 10 times better.  The odds of scoring a run by getting a series of hits is more than twice that of scoring by the long ball (home run).

There seems to be a preoccupation with immediate gratification rather than making the effort to systematically repair, redesign, or recreate key business processes, and create healthy and sustainable businesses.

Swinging for the fences reflects a quick win mentality which has become pervasive in business thinking.  There seems to be an increased tendency for leaders to be more focused on immediate changes they can make to achieve short-term goals, drive the quarter to quarter share price of the business, and earn bigger bonuses, with not as much regard for the long-term impact.  The thinking is clearly in  favor of immediate gain and reward, and less of a concern with the future state they may be creating and passing on to someone else.

One workshop participant shared this example.  A CEO said to one of his business leaders that this leader needed to reduce operational costs in his business by 20%.  That leader indicated that those results would be achieved with some changes in computer systems, the associated processes, and employee training, and that the plans were in place to do exactly that over the coming 24 months.  The CEO was not satisfied and said that he wanted to reduce costs in project support functions by increasing the workload per employee in those functions now…and by nearly doubling that workload.  The business leader argued that doing so would result in quality problems, high employee turnover, and would ultimately lead to dissatisfaction among the customers.  He further argued that the current service levels were those to which the customers had agreed when contracting for the work, and changing those service levels would violate those agreements.

The CEO insisted that the business leader make the changes to service levels immediately.  He had made commitments to investors that the organization would reach certain levels of profitability by the end of the year, and this was the only way to do it.

The short-term effect was, as the CEO indicated, an immediate improvement in profitability, great satisfaction by investors, and a healthy rise in company valuation and stock price.  The CEO got a tremendous bonus and payoff in his stock options.  The near term effect (6 months later) was onset of operational quality problems.  Customer satisfaction began to decline as did new contracts.  Over the next year revenues declined along with profitability.  This was followed by a dramatic reduction in company valuation and stock price.  Within two and a half years the company had been split up and sold at a fraction of it’s value from 3 years earlier.

While I wholeheartedly believe that a leader must push his/her team to perform well and find ways for improvement, this must be done within the context of what is achievable and sustainable.  It is achieved through a rigorous and systematic approach to improving all aspects of the operation.  It generally, though not always, means that the best results come from the accumulation of a series of improvements across entire systems that enable the organization to routinely generate the desired results.

The problem seems to be a preoccupation with immediate gratification rather than making the effort to repair, redesign, or recreate key business processes, and create healthy and sustainable businesses.