Beware Low-Hanging Fruit in Business

Easier Isn't Always Better

Lemons Hanging from a Tree with Sky in the Background
GettyImages/WIN-Initiative/Neleman

The phrase "low-hanging fruit" refers to easy-to-accomplish tasks or easy-to-solve problems in a particular situation. It's a cliché used in business that is widely used and occasionally abused. Tasks described as "low-hanging fruit" are often inconsequential to the larger challenges. Much like easy but low priority items on your to-do list, they might be quick for you to dispatch but relatively insignificant given your larger challenges.

 

Low-Hanging Fruit – Literally

Low-hanging fruit means something different to you than to most business managers if you manage an orchard. Some of the fruits on a tree are easier to get to than others. My parents had a huge cherry tree in their yard that was 40 to 50 feet tall and even wider across. Every summer, we’d pick the cherries off the lower branches as we walked by. They were sweet and they were easy to get to. Technically, they were the low-hanging fruit.

Toward mid-summer, we would begin going after the fruit higher in the tree. That meant either dragging out a ladder or climbing the tree. The fruit that was higher up was usually more plentiful, bigger and sweeter, but not always.

Low-Hanging Fruit in Business

Some of the goals you set for your organization will be easier to achieve than others. If you've done a customer satisfaction survey that showed that customers are dissatisfied with your telephone support service, you might set a number of goals designed to fix that.

 You might set one goal to answer all incoming calls within a certain period of time, and another goal might be to resolve 90 percent of customer support issues on the first call.

The first goal is considerably easier to achieve. Improving the time-to-answer can be managed quickly by hiring more telephone representatives and buying any necessary additional equipment.

Of course, adding staff and equipment requires access to capital, but this goal would still be considered the low-hanging fruit. 

Goal Selection and Low-Hanging Fruit

The downside of focusing your energy and investment on the easier of the two goals above is that the overall quality as perceived by customers may very well be influenced more by getting the right answer and less by having a human pick up the phone faster.

Goals shouldn't be selected and pursued because they're easy. They should be prioritized in terms of overall importance toward achieving the organizational strategy. In this case, achieving the low-hanging goal might be inconsequential in resolving your customer service reputation. 

Low-Hanging Fruit Beyond Goals

Low-hanging fruit doesn’t only refer to goals. It can also refer to targets. Sales professionals will tell you that it’s easier to get an existing customer to buy more than it is to gain a new customer. Some sales people target repeat sales to existing customers because they consider them to be low-hanging fruit, but the sales advantage might not be as significant as when signing up a new customer.

Other Examples

Countless other situations in business may lead employees to pursue the easier activities. Some of these to watch out for include:

  • Individual goals established as part of annual professional development plans 
  • Process improvement initiatives where there are multiple options to choose from and some are more complicated than others
  • Problems that span functional boundaries are often the very high fruit that no one wants to reach for. As a result, these problems will languish while easier tasks are completed. 

The Bottom Line

Beware the easiest goals. While the low-hanging fruit may be tempting, the true rewards often come from climbing higher and stretching for the real treasure. 

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