My son will never eat a fresh mango . . .

I am in India this week, specifically Pune, which is southeast of Mumbai.  Pune is a small city that has grown into a technology center, with many of the big Indian and foreign technology companies having operations there.  Not as hot and muggy as Mumbai and with lots of trees and greenery around.  And a nice place to be in the monsoon season.

Today I met an interesting individual, Deepak, who is a senior consulting manager for the company I am having meetings with.  For me India is a land of many contrasts and complications, with an almost schizophrenic, split personality.  One half is deeply spiritual and the other half swiftly commercial.  Somehow India seems to pull it off nicely.  Deepak is the embodiment of this dual nature of modern India.

While he is a highly successful senior consultant and project manager with a young family, he also harbours a fear that his son will never “grow up to eat a fresh mango”.  This is his metaphorical way of saying that he is so caught up in the immediate payback, quick return momentum of the current times that he does not always make decisions for the long term.

His mango analogy came from his early childhood. He told me a story of his father who planted a mango tree in their garden.  Even though it would take several years before any fruit could be harvested and enjoyed, his father faithfully spent time and effort watering, fertilizing and pruning the mango tree.  And only many years later did Deepak enjoy the fruits of his father’s efforts.

But would he take the time to plant a mango tree?  Would his son ever enjoy a fresh tree-ripened mango?  He fears not.  He is immersed in a world of immediate payback and short-term results.  And he worries deeply about this aspect of his modern life.

And I worry about short-term thinking and quick-return investing in most modern businesses today.  Unless your business is long-cycle by its nature, like oil and gas exploration, most businesses are almost totally focused on short-term returns. (And it looks like with the cost cutting in operations and quality BP got seduced by the dark-side of quarterly returns as well).

This is what I hear in most management meetings. Are we going to make the quarterly figures?  The ROI is not fast enough to warrant that kind of investment!  Isn’t there a way to accelerate the returns? And since most investors are hooked on quick returns, the shareholders that would benefit from a long-term investment are not the shareholders of today, they will have long ago sold their shares and gone on to another investment that promised a quicker return.

I see short-term behaviors in the way senior teams tightly manage budgets. In the way they put off investing in people development, in their culture, in infrastructure until “the time is right”.  And it always amazed me that capability, capacity and skills training are the first items to be cut from the budget when the economy slows down.  Developing people and building a performance culture is like planting mango trees; it’s an investment in a better future.

If your company’s value system and business model puts shareholders first then it will take great courage to “plant mango trees”.

Tight Lines . . .

John R Childress

E | john@johnrchildress.com      T | +44 207 584 3774      M | +44 7833 493 999

About johnrchildress

John Childress is currently Visiting Professor in Strategy and Culture at IE Business School in Madrid and a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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