. . . You know, those 47-page strategic plans that organizations spend six-months developing and then promptly place on a shelf to collect dust until a year from now when someone suggests maybe we should see if we are accomplishing any of those things we thought were so critical to our success. Kill them. They suck the energy out of those who put them together (with the exception of that one highly detailed person in Quality Assurance who is absolutely critical to your organization but certainly doesn’t represent the norm), and often times those who read them can’t remember the original goal by the time they get to the end of tactic number 53.
Let me be clear. I absolutely think a clearly communicated strategic framework is a fundamental component of good leadership, I just don’t think we do ourselves any favors when we make it so painfully complex. How can we expect our staff to think strategically about the daily opportunities that present themselves if they can’t remember the organization’s key strategic areas of focus?
Our organization’s strategic framework consists of four areas of focus with four goals under each area. That’s it. It fits on one page. And I’d be willing to bet money, or even chocolate, that every one of my senior leaders can tell you the four areas of focus without batting an eye. I’d like to be able to say that every one our staff members could too, but that might be stretching it a bit. Still, I bet you’d be amazed at how many of them could come pretty close. So what are they?
Measure What Matters
For those of you who are sitting there smugly saying to yourself, “That’s just silly, I have no idea what those four things mean,” I would respond, “You don’t have to. Our staff do, our board does, and we’re the ones responsible for keeping this organization on the cutting edge.” We can look at a project and easily identify it as a Big Reach effort, or a more effective way to Measure What Matters. When it comes to organizational values or strategic direction, how are you going to know if you’re living them out if you don’t know what they are? And how are you going to remember what they are if it takes a 47-page document to explain them?
Another example. A number of years ago, we boldly claimed that we wanted our organization to be the Mayo Clinic of Trauma and Attachment. Our staff got fired up about that! They suddenly had a picture of where we were going and they wanted to help us get there. To this day, our staff knows that any new program idea needs to be presented through the lens of trauma and attachment. If they can’t do that, the answer is no. We gave them a strategic road map, rather than a strategic ball and chain, and their enthusiasm (and our success!) soared.
In today’s fast-paced environment no group of leaders, no matter how wise or prophetic, can sit in a room and determine exactly what an organization should be doing 36-months down the road. And if they try, their organization is likely to miss all the fun stuff that comes up along the way. Our organization is making significant, exciting progress on the journey to being the Mayo Clinic of trauma and attachment; and, if we had tried to crystal ball what the path would look like when we first set that strategic destination, we would have totally missed the mark.
Kill the big hairy beast.
Less is more! But I have to warn you, (you knew there was a down side, right?!?) less is also harder. Less means saying no to things that you could do, and could probably do well. It means giving up on the dream of being all things to all people. Less means doing the hard work of distilling down to those few things that are most central to accomplishing your mission. Less can be a bit scary, because there is no flowery, fog-producing prose or 14-step process to hide behind. Less is all those things. And it’s also energizing and inspiring and unifying and . . . (wait for it) . . . ultimately strategic.
Are you brave enough to banish the beast?