When times get hard, it is easy for leaders to focus on business
survival, which in most cases begins with a frantic attempt to cut costs. Over the last few weeks and months, , and , to and
probably your local department store are all examples of companies that
appeared to be doing well when suddenly they were under unbelievable pressure.
It is likely that if you have not had this experience yet, you will soon.
The tendency then is to do something and do it fast. We start
putting together task forces and eliminating extra travel. We stop all of the
offsite meetings and eliminate the Christmas party. I recall while I was a
university professor at in the 90s, there was an announcement that we were
thirteen million dollars over budget so graduate students could no longer use
the copy machine!! All of these actions are generally part of the game of
“Picking the Low-Hanging Fruit.”
While it makes sense to go after some of the obvious
actions, if for no other reason than to clearly deliver the message of urgency,
there is a probelem with the focus on Low-Hanging Fruit. Whether your purpose
is to cut costs, create greater employee or customer satisfaction, or to
improve your marketing results, the Low-Hanging Fruit are more likely to be
distractions than to be meaningful. They are the clutter of things that should
have been done a long time ago and are overdue. They may have to be done, but
they can also represent leadership procrastination from making the tough
To ensure that you don’t get caught in the trap of the
Low-Hanging Fruit, consider the following:
1. While you are working with your teams to determine
the right course of action for your current condition, set up one task force
that has the task of “Dealing with the Obvious.” Empower them to identify the
stuff that has been waiting for a crisis before somebody actually dealt with
it, and then deal with it.
2. From the very beginning, include a mix of employees
from various locations, positions and levels in the planning and implementation
teams. First, it is likely that the line employees are most aware of what is
really of value versus what is just hard to let go of. Second, by including employees
in the exeuction planning you will have created internal advocates for the
actions that follow.
3. Spend more time and resources on the mid-and
long-term than you feel you should. In an orchard, the fruit at the top of the
tree is more exposed to the sun and often ripens before the lower fruit. If you
wait too long to get started on the bigger ideas you may well miss your
4. Let all employees know what you are doing. Be
transparent about the fact that you will deal with the most obvious immediate
actions but that your interest is in long-term survival and success. Tell them
from Day One that there will be some hard choices and that these will be
communicated openly and honestly when they are made.
What looks like an easy hit today (eliminating
training, postponing customer events, etc) may become a major problem tomorrow
when it will be more important than ever to have energized employees and
delighted customers. Often the hard decisions are as obvious as the easy
ones…they are just harder. If being a great leader was just about implementing
the easy actions, then we would have great leaders everywhere we turned. What
do you think?