There was once a time, 25 or more years ago, when a business leader could make compromises. Sacrifice one noble objective for another, all in the spirit of making “tough calls” and driving strategic decisions. “We will sacrifice profits short term in order to fuel long-term growth” was once a common utterance of CEOs around the world, and applauded for its vision and principle-based stand.
These days are long gone. We live in a business world of “no compromise.” Where global competition, and a global workforce, have shattered paradigms. Consumers want it all. Customers want it all. Shareholders want it all. CEOs want it all. And in this global marketplace, they can get it. And so the best companies and best employees must learn the art of “no compromise.
In the annals of business there have been four major “compromises” made in the past, which are no longer relevant, nor sustainable in today’s world. Like the horse and buggy, they have been relegated to the past, mere antiques from a different era. The word “or” is a dead word in today’s business language. It’s all about “and.”
“You can have quality, or you can have a low price. But you cannot have both.” How many salesmen over the decades have muttered this statement to a prospective customer? The advent of low-cost manufacturing, a global economy, increases in productivity, have brought prices down for even the most exclusive of items. Consumers are demanding quality AND price. And they are getting it. Just look at the list of most-admired companies in the world today: Apple, Coca-Cola, Procter & Gamble have all mastered the art of giving high quality at competitive pricing. Those who make a choice on price vs. quality do so at their own risk.
“What is more important? Long-term or short-term results?” A number of years ago, I was in a senior management meeting in P&G and one of my colleagues asked this question of our CEO, AG Lafley. I’ll never forget his answer: “It’s a good question and an easy answer: the short term is important to deliver, and the long term is important to deliver. Shareholders have a myriad of choices across global markets to invest. They want both short-term and long-term gains. And they are getting it. (Think GE or Apple, models of consistent shareholder return.) So we don’t have a choice. Deliver the short term. And deliver the long term.”
“What do we drive? Top-line results or bottom-line results?” Again, today business leaders and shareholders want BOTH. They want sales increases. And while it takes money to drive sales, they expect cost optimization to enable profit growth along the way. Why do we see company after company enacting restructuring even in good times? In order to fuel the investment to keep top line growing without sacrificing the bottom line.
We live in a fast-changing world of business. While this can be a boon for some (think WhatsApp) it can be a disaster for others (think BlackBerry).
The world is now a world of “and.” If you like to compromise and say “or,” may I suggest you carry a roll of toilet paper around with you. As they say, “It’s a short trip from the penthouse to the outhouse.