When crises occur, a long-term horizon very quickly contracts to dealing with immediate problems and avoiding catastrophe. For many organisations, the COVID-19 pandemic produced a never-ending stream of challenges that have impacted long-term strategy.
It’s been about survival mode and worry about the future later. But the longer we focus only on managing in the moment, the greater the risk of losing in the long term. There are three reasons why a long-term term strategy is vital for sustainable business success:
1. Looking further ahead enables us to set higher ambitions.
The traditional definition of strategy is simple — it’s a plan to achieve long-term competitive advantage. In other words, how we can do better than our competitors, or any potential substitutes, with what we offer? And not just right now, but over time? One of the simplest ways to raise our ambition is to extend our horizon. Ask me if I could run a marathon next week, and the immediate answer is no. I’m not fit enough, I haven’t done the training and I don’t have the gear. Extend the time horizon two years into the future however, and possibilities increase — if I choose to implement the right training program, that ambition can be brought to life. Similarly, when planning for your business, looking further ahead enables you to raise your ambition.
2. We can’t make strategic decisions without a long-term view
When our gaze is limited to what’s right in front of us, we stop being strategic — we have lost sight of our long game. Every time you take an action that has any potential future impact, you’re making a strategic choice. If you’re not committed to a long-term ambition, then your perspective is too narrow and you’re likely to be making choices based only on what is right in front of you. The supply contract that offers only short-term discounts, rather than long term security of supply and sustainable resourcing. Or the staff reductions to cover an immediate lull, but which will result in skills shortages once recovery gains momentum.
3. Shared long-term ambition generates momentum
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Organisations with a shared long-term ambition are clear about what matters most. Strategic choices, their risks and benefits, can be viewed from this wider context. This perspective enables more confident, faster decision-making because the end goal is clear. When Australia’s international borders were shut in 2020, Tourism Australia was one of many organisations required to adapt abruptly. Its mandate is to attract international visitors to Australia, but with international travel on hold the organisation pivoted within weeks to roll out their first domestic campaign — “Holiday here this year” — to support local tourism, until this too was interrupted by domestic border closures.
In the two years prior to the reopening of international borders in March, Tourism Australia continued to focus on the building blocks needed for longer-term resilience and recovery. Building international visitation is a process that can take months, if not years, as potential visitors move through the stages of awareness, consideration and then booking.
As chief marketing officer Susan Coghill explained to me: “We understand that for us to succeed as a brand and as a destination, we always have to play the long game.”
Tourism Australia continued to prioritise creativity in campaign design and crisis management, together with consensus about their long-term purpose.
Strategy is never fixed, because the world we operate in is never static. Sometimes long-term planning gets parked while everyone focuses on an immediate crisis, but we can’t afford to stay fixed in the moment for ever. Our experiences during the pandemic have taught us that in times of uncertainty there is power in committing to your long game. Reaching consensus on a shared, long-term ambition and the strategic roadmap to achieve it helps organisations make the right choices and build the resilience to keep moving forward despite upheaval.