Our organization’s strategic framework fits on one page. In any given three-year cycle, the framework will include 3 – 4 core areas of focus, and 3 – 4 goals under each of these key areas. That’s it. Our vision, values and operating principles also fit on a single page, as do the impact reports for each of our major programs.
It’s not that we don’t have a lot of data, or details, or documentation. Trust me we do . . . reams of it! And it takes LOTS of distilling down the information, ideas and intricacies to get these documents to a single piece of paper — to reach the simplicity on the other side of complexity. Why go to all of this effort? Because it clarifies, for you and for those you would hope to lead, the ultimate destination.
When you give someone a 47-page document that includes every data point and detail about a project, it is way too easy to get lost in the weeds and allow the pre-ordained plan to guide your actions rather than the intended goal. Also, someone from accounting might think page 12 is the most important, while the program folks are sure you intended page 34 to be the top priority . . . and in the midst of the tug-of-war, the leader’s real intent falls by the way-side. Very few people are going to get passionate about — or even remember what is in — a 47-page document.
When John F. Kennedy said we were going to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, there was no mistaking the priority. People got excited about it and made it happen. That’s one page leadership. Did lots of people have to figure out lots of details to make it happen? Of course they did, and they made it work because everyone was clear on where they were going.
In the military, there is a concept called Commander’s Intent. It is a clear description of the desired end state. Commander’s Intent is important because when things don’t go as intended (not if . . . when) people who know the end goal can adapt their actions in ways that offer the best opportunity for reaching the destination. If all they know is the next step that applies directly to them, you lose the opportunity to benefit from their front-line knowledge or creative ideas.
If it takes more than one page to explain the core priorities, you aren’t being clear enough. If your people can’t remember — and consistently repeat — the big picture goal, they are not going to have the passion or unified focus needed to accomplish really big things. Is that a lot harder than it sounds? Sure it is. If it was easy, anyone could lead.