Why the Tortoise beats the Hare: The power of long-term business goals

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All businesses want to grow and succeed. But in the race towards profits and leading the competition, it’s easy to focus only on short-term gains instead of long-term vision. Just like in Aesop’s fable “The Tortoise and the Hare,” slow and steady wins the race when it comes to business objectives.  

What’s the difference between short-term and long-term objectives?

Short-term objectives

In a nutshell, short-term business objectives focus on immediate results - what you want to achieve within weeks or months. They drive day-to-day productivity. 

Effective short-term objectives are:

  1. Clearly defined
  2. Easily executable
  3. Oriented toward individual or team efforts rather than high-level organisational strategy 

Short-term objectives should still align with and support the overarching long-term vision and direction of the business. In simple terms, short-term objectives represent incremental steps on the path toward the ultimate destination - they are progress markers that indicate whether you are pointed in the right direction. By regularly checking and achieving short-term objectives, you ensure you stay on course toward your long-term objectives.

Examples of short-term objectives

Here are some examples of short-term business objectives:

  • Increase sales by 10 percent this quarter through seasonal promotions.
  • Onboard five new clients from the financial industry by the end of this month. 
  • Reduce operational expenses by 5 percent in the next two months by optimising workflows.
  • Hire two additional customer support reps within three weeks to improve response times.
  • Complete migration to a new CRM platform on budget by Q2. 
  • Increase social media reach by 20 percent in the next six weeks through paid advertising.

Long-term objectives

Long-term business objectives define the strategic objectives a company seeks to accomplish over an extended timeframe. As the name implies, long-term typically refers to outcomes targeted for the coming years rather than months. While there is no universal duration, most organisations regard long-term objectives as those they aim to reach within the next decade.  

Effective long-term objectives drive progress towards the overarching vision for the company. They outline foundational priorities and plans to withstand evolving market conditions, technologies, regulations, and other external factors. Though ambitious in scope, long-term objectives should remain dynamic and flexible to enable adaptation when circumstances change. As Amazon founder Jeff Bezos once said: "Be stubborn on vision, but flexible on details."

At the same time, long-term objectives provide a guiding framework for short-term efforts and day-to-day operations. There is interdependency between the high-level strategy and on-the-ground execution. Crafting long-term objectives requires a top-down view of the desired future state while allowing for creativity, innovation, and input to bubble up from all levels of the organisation. This balance empowers both leadership and individual teams to move the organisation forward.

Be stubborn on vision, but flexible on details."
Amazon founder – Jeff Bezos

Examples of long-term objectives

Some examples of impactful long-term business objectives may include:

  • Increase annual revenue by 30 percent over the next five years by expanding to new markets and customer segments.  
  • Achieve over 50 percent brand awareness within our target demographic by 2025 through consistent marketing campaigns.
  • Reduce employee turnover to less than 10 percent by 2026 via improved training, engagement initiatives, and career development opportunities.  
  • Launch three new product lines catered to emerging consumer needs over the next decade to reinforce innovation leadership in our industry.
  • Expand manufacturing and distribution infrastructure to support a 5x increase in production capacity within eight years. 
  • Achieve B-Corp certification by 2028 by launching comprehensive sustainability initiatives across operations.

OKRs help connect objectives to execution

A bold vision requires executional precision to reach the finish line. That’s where the flexible OKR framework comes in.

Diagram showing how vision becomes KPIs, which become goals and OKRs, which in turn become projects

Objectives are inspirational statements that set the context and outline the general direction of quarterly or annual objectives. Each Key result contextualises the interim progress needed to advance the objective, focusing effort and coordination.

For example, the fuzzy long-term objective of "significantly expand our market presence" doesn't provide enough clarity or accountability to determine program success. In contrast, the key result to "increase our market share by 30 percent over the next 12 months" with revenue and customer acquisition benchmarks sets clear targets.

Annual OKRs can then be broken down into quarterly milestones to provide a more granular view of execution. For instance, you could narrow down the expansion efforts by focusing on increasing your market presence in Europe in Q1, before expanding to other regions.

Once OKRs are set, it becomes much easier for teams to identify the strategic projects that will best deliver the expected results. The fluid rhythm of OKRs, which includes measuring progress with regular check-ins, will provide a regular framework to quantify achievements. This process funnels aspirational goals into measurable objectives, ensuring that tactical activities are connected to the overarching strategy.

In summary, OKRs provide structure for achieving a visionary goal. They ensure short-term efforts align with long-term success, and allow for progress tracking through tangible metrics.

How to track short and long-term objectives

It's essential to set SMART objectives if you want to be successful. However, merely setting objectives is not enough. Tracking your progress towards your goals is equally important. This helps you stay motivated and focused. By monitoring your short-term and long-term goals, you can hold yourself accountable and stay on track towards accomplishing your objectives.

Sample OKR progress chart and checkin from Tability
Progress charts in Tability will help keep you accountable

Short-term objectives help you maintain a sense of urgency and keep you motivated while working towards a larger long-term objective. On the other hand, long-term objectives help you maintain a clear vision and sense of direction. By tracking short- and long-term objectives, you can maintain a healthy balance.

The limits of spreadsheets for objective tracking

Spreadsheets offer basic tables for manually logging objective progress, but they have considerable limitations when used as dedicated tracking tools. Their static reporting requires constant manual updating, risking data integrity through human error, oversight, or manipulation. Spreadsheets also lack intuitive visualisation capabilities to spotlight progress patterns and trends over time. Their limited functionality makes them less suitable for complex goal hierarchies or advanced analytics.

Sample screenshot of the strategy map in Tability allowing you to see cascading OKRs
Tability’s Strategy Map is one of many visualisations you won’t have with spreadsheets

The fluid OKR methodology provides that crucial link between strategic aims and tactical activation. However, implementation hurdles like manual tracking, scattered updates, lack of transparency, and misalignment can still undermine results.

The more friction you have in the goal-tracking process, the more likely your team is to “set and forget” their objectives. You’ll end up with a roadmap that drifts away from the initial vision as distractions start to pile in.

The upsides of structured goal-tracking software

Robust goal-tracking platforms like Tability conversely provide structured frameworks to define objectives, key results, ownership roles, and assessment metrics. Tability's automated tracking tools and customisable dashboards provide real-time insight into objective progress across every level of the organisation - from individual contributors to company-wide initiatives.

Sample OKR dashboard from Tability
Example of automated OKR dashboard in Tability

The system's dynamic reporting spotlights achievement trends as they emerge, enabling prompt course correction, resource allocation, and strategy pivots if needed. With a birds-eye view of alignment between high-level objectives and ground-level activities, leaders can steer toward success based on empirical evidence rather than guesses or assumptions.

The key benefits:

  • A central place for defining goals and tracking progress
  • Automated dashboards and workflows to significantly reduce reporting costs
  • Visualisation to see how goals cascade and align throughout the organisation
  • Reminders and check-ins to drive accountability at scale

The Tortoise wins the race through steady perseverance 

In The Tortoise and the Hare, the nimble hare dashes ahead but becomes distracted and complacent, stopping for an untimely nap mid-race. Meanwhile, the slow yet unwavering tortoise plods on until he ultimately passes his sleeping competitor to reach the finish line first.  

The Tortoise beating the Hare in a race

This metaphor holds true in business as well – realising ambitious long-term objectives requires maintaining focus and discipline even when progress seems incremental. Quick "wins" may come easier, but sustainable success flows from committing to a steady path toward the summit, no matter how distant.

Just as the tortoise triumphs through perseverance, organisations that keep fixed on their long-term vision and back it with gritty determination will build businesses that stand the test of time. There will always be flashier competition threatening to sprint ahead. But your organisation can win on its own terms by avoiding diversionary detours and temptations to settle for less.  

With a clear-eyed perspective on the long game and resilience to see initiatives through to fruition, your organisation will cross the finish line ahead of time. The spoils will be all the sweeter for setting an enduring pace toward greatness rather than collapsing later in the race. Just ask the Tortoise – slow and steady still wins.

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Jeremy Yancey

Head of Content, Tability

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