We spend so much effort making ourselves better people—better contributors, bosses, and leaders. We educate ourselves on insights from psychology and organizational behavior, read HBR articles for case studies we can learn from, attend leadership development seminars, read books, and even engage in annual performance review meetings with an earnest commitment to finding growth potential. All of this work and effort is to answer the question of what determines long-term organizational success.

What we spend much less time on is being clear about where to apply all these new insights and skills. It’s easy to be consumed by the most pressing issue at hand. We get focused on succeeding in an immediate initiative. Next quarter’s product launch, go-live, or quota is always there for us to work on.

Let me offer a radical proposition: what determines long-term organizational success never depends on a single product launch, go-live, or quarterly performance metric (or any other immediate initiative). Your most pressing immediate initiative is not always the thing to focus on. In some circumstances, it can be a distraction from the conditions that bear on long-term organizational success.

In 2021, NYU conducted a wide-ranging analysis of the performance and efficiency of public agencies around the world. Some were effective at using funds and rarely went over budget. Others (mostly in the United States) regularly squandered billions of dollars on large projects. What distinguished high-performing organizations from ineffective ones? The study concludes that the quality of decision-making and the presence of a culture of accountability were the primary factors.

This is the arena in which we can experiment with being better leaders and contributors. Armed with case studies, self-awareness, and business acumen we can make a significant, long-standing impact on our organizations by working on the quality of decision-making and a culture of accountability.

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