The Moving Target of Success


I recently celebrated 25 years at my organization. Amid congratulations from friends and colleagues, I also received several comments along the lines of, “Wow. Twenty-five years at the same organization?” Except it’s not. The organization I am part of today looks very different from the organization I joined a quarter-century ago, just as I’m sure there will be a myriad of changes a generation from now . . . not because we aren’t successful today, but because we want to remain successful tomorrow.

Sometimes, the greatest barrier to future success is current success. After all, what you are doing is working . . . whether you define that as extending your mission reach, having a positive impact on the bottom line, growing market share, or some combination thereof. Why would you want to disrupt that? Because if you don’t, someone else will. Unfortunately, there are plenty of examples of organizations whose view of the future was distorted by overconfidence based on their current success (Kodak, anyone?). Improving or refining a program, product or service that people no longer want or need is a hollow, and unsustainable, victory.

Success may be a moving target, but that doesn’t mean everything is up for grabs. The core values of our organization are the same as when we were founded 166 years ago. Our work has always been focused around kids and their families. However, what kids and families want and need today is different from 100 years ago, or five years in the future. That means, to be successful today and tomorrow, your organization has to continually refine what it is doing now while also taking steps to make your current approach to the work obsolete.

It is a leader’s job to guide your organization through the competing perspectives and tensions of focusing on the now versus preparing for the future . . . which ideas to explore and for how long, when and how to shift programs or approaches, how resources will be divided between the current and future orientations . . . And regardless of where you focus your energies, there will be those — who are truly committed to your organization — who will think you are wrong, that you are skewing too much one way or another. Too safe . . . too risky . . . is it the wise voice of experience or an over-emphasis on outdated approaches . . . is it a crazy idea or the wave of the future?

One thing you can be sure of . . . the target of success WILL move. Your organization will be different ten years from now than it is today. How? Well, my friend, that is up to you.

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