It's a pity the word “legacy” has come to
have negative connotations. What we inherit in business isn't all bad. More
important, people should be actively trying to create great things – brands,
processes, techniques, markets, and so on – that will continue to power the
business when they themselves move on.
We rightly try to link rewards with
achievements. But this encourages a short term perspective. People are
incentivized to meet goals tied to months, quarters or years. Planning to such
a level of detail on a longer timescale isn't worth it, because too much is
likely to change. We can't set hard, long term goals, so we sometimes neglect the long
term altogether. How can we reward people for caring about
the future? For making the effort to build a better future for the business and
all its stakeholders?
The way forward lies in the investment
mindset. Business leaders must model and encourage behaviors geared toward
future returns. We must reward people for the investments they make as well as
the current goals they achieve.
Here's the hard part: Because we can't
predict which investments will pay off and which won't, we are going to have to
reward people for their intentions and commitment. If we're going to expect
people to care about the future, then it's the caring we need to reward, not
the potential outcome.
What I'm describing is known under another
name: innovation. But if you lead with the idea of innovation, people
immediately start thinking about genius levels of creativity, and amazing new
technologies. That's great – but we also need everyday, commonplace attention
to the care of the future. Incremental improvements, not just breakthroughs.
One of the best investments any
organization can make in the future is to ensure it will be able to manage its
information easily, guarding against unnecessary complexity and exploiting best
practice wherever possible. There's a name for that too: standards.
Organizations must reward people whenever they opt for standards. We must be looking to reuse preexisting components and architectures in every area of the business. The world is full of great tools and techniques that not only save money and improve performance now, but also form a rich legacy for the years ahead.