Winning Now, Winning Later: A book review by Bob Morris

Winning Now, Winning Later: How Companies Can Succeed in the Short Term While Investing for the Long Term
David M. Cote
HarperCollins Leadership (June 2020)

It’s not “Either/Or”; it’s “Both”

In his latest book, The Three-Box Solution: A Strategy for Leading Innovation, Vijay Govindarajan provides what he characterizes as “a simple framework that recognizes all three competing challenges face that managers face when leading innovation.” That is, simultaneously managing today’s business while creating tomorrow’s and letting go of yesterday’s values and beliefs that could keep the company stuck in the past.

There are three separate but interdependent strategic objectives:

Box 1: Optimize the current business.
Box 2: Let go of the values and resources that fuel the current business but fail the new one.
Box 3: Invent a new business model.

This is precisely what David Cote recommends in his book Winning Now, Winning Later: “Strong short- and long-term performance only seem mutually exclusive. As a leader, you can and must pursue both at the same time. Unless you do, you and your team or organization will never reach your full potential.”

Based on his wide and deep experience as a senior-level executive, Cote has identified three principles of short- and long-term performance:

1. Scrub business practices down to what is real.
2. Invest in the future, but not excessively.
3. Grow while keeping fixed costs constant.

In Winning Now, Winning Later, Cote explains HOW. “In Part I, ‘Lay the Foundations,’ I explore the intellectual basis required for achieving strong long- and short-term results at the same time…In Part II of this book, ‘Optimize the Organization,’ discusses investments you must make to free yourself from the challenges that might be dragging down your performance…Part III, ‘Invest to Grow,’ deals with investment decisions you can make now to ensure your future expansion…[and then in] Part IV, ‘Protect Your Investments,’ explains how to sustain how to sustain both a short- and long-term approach in challenging times.”

Cote fully understands why leaders must pursue organizational growth and deliver quarterly results. He wrote this book in order to explain HOW leaders can do that “with a new kind of balance, discipline, rigor, and energy, investing in growth while performing well now.”

Readers will appreciate Cote’s brilliant use of a “Questions to Ask Yourself” section at the conclusion of each chapter. They serve several critically impirtant purposes. For example, they reiterate or at least imply key insights that the reader should carefully consider. Also, and equally important, they facilitate, indeed expedite the reader’s active (i.e. reflective) interaction with the material covered in the given chapter. Here is a brief selection of questions:

o “Are your metrics real, or are people massaging them in ways that yield a distorted picture?” (Chapter One, Page 31)

o “What kind of short-term ‘make the quarter’ activities do you see in your organization? Are they hurting long-term effectiveness?” (Two, 55)

o “How much attention have you paid to pushing process improvement forward? Are you driving it daily, or are you abdicating responsibility? Are you pushing your organization to achieve small-company speed with big-company efficiency?” (Four, 104)

NOTE: In this context I am reminded of an African Proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” That suggests good advice when deciding how what to do short-term can help to achieve long-term success.

o “Is your culture as customer focused as it could be?” I presume to add, “As it should be?”  (Seven, 183)

o “Do you heed early signs of bad economic times and take reasonable precautions, or are you content to listen to those who say, ‘This is no big deal’?” (Nine, 236)

Questions such as these deserve thoughtful consideration and then direct, candid answers. David Cote is presumably a caring person with substantial empathy but there is absolutely no doubt that he is a relentless, no-nonsense  pragmatist. He seems determined to understand what works, what doesn’t, and WHY. Hence the generous provision of specific dos and don’ts and the absence of what I characterize as “subjunctive hypotheticals” (woulda-coulda-shouldas).

I think his most valuable insight can be stated this way: If your organization does not have BOTH short- and long-term objectives to achieve peak performance, it will not succeed now or then. As Marshall Goldsmith suggests, “what got you here won’t get you there.” In fact, what got you here won’t even allow you to remain here, wherever and whatever “here” and “there” may be. With very rare exception, organizations that don’t win now won’t win later. Period.

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