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 . . .
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