Why is strategic planning so difficult? And why, when people finally get around to creating a strategic plan, does it wind up sitting on the shelf, unused? I’d like to answer those questions by providing you with questions you must ask – and answer – to grow your business in 2014.
The six questions come from a tremendous book that I’ve blogged about in the past – The Advantage, by Patrick Lencioni. I can’t recommend Lencioni’s work enough. His emphasis on organizational health is incredibly simple yet stunningly effective.
In a nutshell, Lencioni believes that what holds an organization back is dysfunction, politics and confusion. Business owners spend a lot of time on areas like marketing, strategy and technology, trying desperately to become “smarter.”
As we all know, and have probably experienced, the most brilliant plan in the world won’t be achieved unless your organization is healthy. That means politics don’t get in the way, dysfunction is minimized, and perhaps most importantly, confusion has been eliminated.
Eliminating confusion will only occur if you can create clarity within your organization, and Lencioni believes you achieve clarity through alignment. Listen to his definition of alignment within the context of his philosophy of organizational health:
“Alignment is about creating so much clarity that there is as little room as possible for confusion, disorder, and infighting to set in. Of course, the responsibility for creating that clarity lies squarely with the leadership team.”
Photo by JimMunnelly
So how do you create clarity? Lencioni, he of much clarity, has a simple response: You cut the blather. You stop wasting time producing verbose mission statements, strategic plans crammed with buzzwords, and blah-blah that truly bores everyone to tears.
I think you know what I’m talking about. Likely, it’s that enormous document everyone worked for months on (or you paid a consultant a handsome sum to produce), and now it sits, dust-covered and forgotten, on the old bookshelf.
Ready for a refreshing change? Let’s try Lencioni's six questions.
Looks Simple, But Get Ready to Be Challenged
Ok, Lencioni’s six questions are incredibly simple, but are just as incredibly difficult for many organizations to answer. As he notes in his book, “None of these questions is novel per se. What is new is the realization none of them can be addressed in isolation; they must be answered together.”
1. Why do we exist?
2. How do we behave?
3. What do we do?
4. How will we succeed?
5. What is most important, right now?
6. Who must do what?
Loaded, aren’t they? Does the thought of presenting these to your leadership team make you uncomfortable? If it does, that’s because you probably have more than enough brainpower on your team, but the dynamics are not in place for a healthy organization. Lencioni explains you won’t be able to answer the questions unless:
You’re not cohesive at the top. This is going to take some “passionate, messy dialogue.” That’s the only way to get to full buy-in. Can your team do that?
You like buzzwords. As Churchill once said, “Sorry this letter is so long. I didn’t have time to make it shorter.” It’s easy to draft a lot of high-falutin’ marketing terms and strategic hoo-ha. But can you answer those questions so specifically and clearly that anyone, even your Aunt Myrtle, could understand what you mean? That’s clarity.
You don’t spend time on the answers. Lencioni doesn’t advocate you work on these for months. That might actually be counter-productive. Instead, spend the time to get an answer you find satisfying. Write them out, let them stew, refine and revise. Try to get it down to the bare essence.
Is there a right or wrong answer to the questions? Lencioni says no, and I have to agree. The only wrong answer is if you’re not communicating clearly. What I mean by that is you need to get specific.
You can’t just loft out something like: “We help people” or “We solve problems.” Uh uh. That doesn’t wash. That’s too ambiguous, and ambiguity leads your term to interpret those kinds of words in any way they want.
Lencioni is right on with this lesson. Achieve clarity in 2014, and watch all the other pieces fall into place.
Cover Photo by mensatic.