We all want to predict the future. I want to know which company will be the next AOL, or the next Apple. I want to know where to tell my kids to put their money so they can take care of me in in my old age in the same lifestyle they have grown accustomed to under my roof. Trust me. They’ve lived better than I did at their age – and probably better than I do at my current state. When I complain to them about it they just turn up the volume on their 42” 1080p TV in their room and keep texting on their $500 smart phones. I just do the Charlie Brown walk to the kitchen and make tomato soup out of catsup and hot water. Le sigh.
But seriously. We all want to be able to see just a little further into the future so we can know what to focus on at work. Wouldn’t it be great to be able to know the skills we need to hire for 5 year from now? Wouldn’t it be great to know which technology will support my business issues in 10 years? It would be great. It would be yuge.
What if you could look at the future in a different way? What if you could predict the future? You must might be able to.
Sorry… I don’t have any change
“I very frequently get the question: ‘What’s going to change in the next 10 years?’ And that is a very interesting question; it’s a very common one. I almost never get the question: ‘What’s not going to change in the next 10 years?’ And I submit to you that that second question is actually the more important of the two — because you can build a business strategy around the things that are stable in time. … [I]n our retail business, we know that customers want low prices, and I know that’s going to be true 10 years from now. They want fast delivery; they want vast selection. It’s impossible to imagine a future 10 years from now where a customer comes up and says, ‘Jeff I love Amazon; I just wish the prices were a little higher,’ [or] ‘I love Amazon; I just wish you’d deliver a little more slowly.’ Impossible. And so the effort we put into those things, spinning those things up, we know the energy we put into it today will still be paying off dividends for our customers 10 years from now. When you have something that you know is true, even over the long term, you can afford to put a lot of energy into it.”
Sure – some people can get lucky and pick the exact thing that will be popular and new in a few years and invest in that and find success. But that is dart board strategy. It’s risky. Jeff Bezos’ idea on the other hand is very, very smart. And as an HR person, worrying about what will be new and different in 5 years is similarly risky.
That’s why for most of my career I’ve tried to help clients find ways to reward and recognize those things that won’t change much (or shouldn’t) and reinforce those behaviors.
Things like: honesty, curiosity, respect, helpfulness, authenticity, generosity. Those things will always have value in an organization. Those traits are what make a workplace a great place to work. And the little gem hidden in each of those things is the fact they will support your company regardless of what business you’re in today – or tomorrow. They will make you more successful.
Just imagine how much better you’re going to sleep knowing that the things you’re doing today will always support your business goals. No worries.
I’ve been in many, many strategic business meetings where we talk about the things we think will change and how we need to prepare for them. Rarely have we talked about the things that we can ALWAYS rely on, and how we can take advantage of those things. It’s normal to focus on the unknown. I get it. But to really be successful in the long-haul I think Bezos is spot on… focus on the things you don’t think will change.
I’ve said this for 10 years….
Use incentive and rewards as tactics to influence behaviors around things that constantly change (sales numbers, products, service) and use recognition to focus on things you hope won’t change much (values and mission.)
As HR professionals I would suggest as part of your strategic planning take some time to identify and surface the things in your company, in your people that you think need to be stable – that need to be here in 10 years or more. That will be your real to-do list. That will be what will increase engagement, satisfaction, retention, quality referrals.
Trust me. Trust Bezos. Trust yourself.