Imagine it’s New Years Eve 2020. It’s getting close to midnight and under your breath, you say to yourself “I can’t believe the year went by so fast!”. You have a few quiet moments by yourself before gathering with family and friends to join the countdown to 2021, and you reflect back on highlights of the year that’s quickly coming to a close. You mentally run through some of your personal highlights – family, vacation, social gatherings, exciting events. Then like most leaders, you roll through scenes from your work life that stand out. As you think back over 2020, what are the top 2 – 3 highlights that come to mind? What were the greatest contributions your team made to the success of your organization? Which activities that your team intentionally engaged in had the greatest impact toward fulfilling the company’s vision?Right now, thinking about the completion of a year that hasn’t yet begun may seem far off in the future. This is the time of year when leaders are fine-tuning their financial plans and budgets for 2020, and generally focused on the question – “how will we make our numbers next year?”. The numbers question is important; we have to deliver expected financial results, and in the words of Peter Drucker, “if you can’t measure it you can’t manage it”. But numbers in isolation are simply a reflection of what’s already happened. They quantify results of the activities we’ve already completed and how effectively we executed upon them. They are not a picture of what we want to make happen. That’s where the vision thing comes into the conversation.
As you think about the impact your organization will make in 2020 beyond the financial results you plan to create, consider revisiting the vision. Even if your organization’s vision has been more cosmetic than actionable, this is the perfect time for your team to delve into three strategic questions that can shape accomplishments in the upcoming year. These are three conversations about tomorrow for today:
Conversation #1 – How well do our actions align with our company’s vision? This conversation requires a candid self-assessment of the vision to make sure it’s real and the team owns it. If there’s any doubt about true buy-in to the vision, an early strategic priority leading into 2020 is to invest leadership team time into redefining where you’re going. Vision sets an organization’s course and informs activities. What do we do (mission), why do we do it (purpose), and how do we fulfill our mission (strategy) are essential questions an organization must answer in order to define its place in the world. Taken together, the answers define an organization’s vision.
Conversation #2 – What are the most important 2 – 3 strategic priorities we want to deliver beyond the expected financial results in 2020? With your vision as the guide, this conversation informs specific areas of impact your team will focus upon beginning now. Vision is irrelevant unless it informs priorities and those priorities define actions. This conversation takes a deductive “if, then” approach – “if our #1 priority is acquiring and developing new talent, then we will _________”. This conversation also leads to rich self-assessment of previously stated strategic priorities. If a team said their #1 priority last year was acquiring and developing talent, yet no specific actions were taken, it wasn’t really a priority.
Conversation #3 – What are the areas in our organization we should be looking at for self-disruption? During the late 1990’s tech boom, the concept of disruption grabbed the attention of the business world. New entrants in a market gave birth to novel ways of serving customers, gained share and changed industries. While disruption has become a core strategy, today the question is “where are there opportunities to self-disrupt?”. This conversation invites your team to temporarily step outside their roles, look at the organization from a third-party observer perspective and ask the question “if we were starting this business from scratch today, how would we do it?”. It requires temporarily letting go of legacy constraints and look at your operation the way a potential disruptor would see things, then challenge your organization to initiate self-disruption.
One of the greatest responsibilities we hold as leaders is driving continual evolution of the organization toward a well-defined future state. Today is the right day to begin these conversations about the 2020 vision your team wants to create. Today you can write scenes of the story you’ll look back to with great fulfillment on New Year’s Eve 2020.
David Coffaro is principal at Strategic Advisory Consulting Group.
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