Beware the Temptation of 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 often uttered in business settings that is widely used and occasionally abused. 

Tasks described as "low-hanging fruit" are inconsequential to the larger challenges. Much like the 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.

And just as time management experts suggest, focusing on the most important priorities will yield the best results. Business professionals should avoid preoccupying on what they deem as low-hanging fruit. 

Low-Hanging Fruit – Original Meaning: 

The phrase low-hanging fruit literally references the sweet, easy-to-reach fruit at the lower end of a tree's branches. Orchard workers and homeowners appreciate the ease with which this fruit can be picked, in contrast to the effort required to reach the fruit found higher in the tree. 

Low-Hanging Fruit in Business

Some of the goals you set for your organization will be easier to achieve than others. For example, if you've completed 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 the areas they critiqued. You might set one goal to answer all incoming calls within a certain period of time, and another goal might be to resolve ninety-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.

The second goal is more challenging than the first, potentially requiring you to increase the technical know-how of the customer service representatives as part of improving the overall customer experience. This involves employee evaluation, training, potentially eliminating some workers and hiring new ones, and a variety of other activities. 

The low-hanging fruit is tempting, easily remedied, but potentially significantly less valuable than these latter, more challenging issues. 

Other examples of low-hanging fruit might include:

  • Customers who regularly re-order product, requiring little more than an occasional reminder call from a sales representative. 
  • Quality defects in manufacturing that are easily identified and repaired.
  • Boosting employee morale through positive feedback and recognition. 
  • Remedying performance problems with constructive feedback. 
  • Satisfying a customer by accommodating a return request. 
  • Casual employee goal setting where the goals do not directly tie to the firm's strategies.
  • Process improvement initiatives where the simpler processes are attacked and improved before more complicated processes are evaluated. 

Ideally, those items we designate as low-hanging fruit are easily handled in the normal course of business by all associates.

However, when we simplify our goals to focus on these simple items, we are potentially short-changing the firm. Remember: great time management much like goal achievement focuses on the big priority items. 

Goal Selection and Low-Hanging Fruit

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. Proper goal establishment includes linking the goals to key strategic priorities and building the mechanism for measuring and monitoring performance. If the goal does not directly connect to a firm's key strategy, it likely should not be pursued.

 

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. However, if a firm's overall health is predicated upon regularly capturing new customers, preoccupying on this easy-to-access business can be dangerous.

Astute sales managers will ensure that their representatives strive for an appropriate balance of the low-hanging fruit with repeat customers and hard-to-reach fruit with new customers. 

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 in the higher branches. 

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Updated by Art Petty