What Happens Next?

By Chuck Violand

January 6, 2014

A recent conversation with a business owner ended in a discussion about shortterm versus longterm implications of a decision he was about to make in his business. It reminded me of a decisionmaking question former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower would ask his advisors when they faced important issues with longterm consequences.

Eisenhower is probably best remembered as a soft spoken, grandfatherly figure who spent more time on the golf course during his presidency then he did in the Oval office. This perception is not completely accurate. After all, you don’t lead the greatest international coalition in the largest military conflict in human history, virtually preserving the free world, by being a softie. The reality is that he was a toughasnails leader who made tough calls when they needed to be made, and who took full responsibility for their outcomes.

On one occasion an advisor of Eisenhower’s suggested using recently developed nuclear weapons to help settle a regional conflict. Rather than accusing the advisor of being out of his mind, Ike addressed the comment by asking “What happens next?” if they chose to take that course of action. What would the long term fallout from this shortterm strategy be for the U.S. in the eyes of the world? Would this settle the conflict, or cause it to escalate?

Business owners would do well to take a moment and ask themselves the same question when considering decisions with long-term consequences. Let’s take a look at a few examples.

Signing on the wrong customer:

Contrary to what some people might want you to believe, increasing sales does not wash all sins and all customers are not created equal. In fact, some customers are flatout bad for your business. Yet, too often we frantically chase customers with a blind disregard for the longterm health of our companies. We would do well to ask ourselves “What happens next?” if we actually sign this customer. Will we get paid? Will it be on time? If they’re a particularly large customer will they place our company at risk by making unreasonable or unprofitable demands? As painful as it may feel at the time, sometimes we’re better off walking away from customers who aren’t good for us in order to free up our time to pursue profitable, healthy ones.

Bringing a partner into your business:

Business owners bring partners into their businesses for a multitude of reasons. Sometimes it’s because they enjoy spending time together so they figure they’ll make good business partners. Occasionally it’s because they’re family members and we trust them. Other times it’s because our companies need a cash infusion and the new partner is able to write a check when sometimes we can’t. But “What happens next?” after the initial glow of the partnership wears off or the reason for partnering is no longer valid? We now have a partner—for better or for worse—but the original reason for partnering may pale in comparison to the pain and anguish caused by the separation if things don’t work out…not to mention the expense!

Never sacrifice a longterm gain for a shortterm need, although that can be difficult to remember when the immediate need is calling your name. Taking the time to ask yourself “What happens next?” can give you clarity of thinking to make the right call.