Establishing and clearly communicating future direction is one of the most important roles of organizational leaders. If leaders cannot articulate their organization’s direction in a simple, clear and consistent way then neither can anyone else. Creating clarity of direction is about defining a clear compelling future and how to get there. It is not about producing a document; it is about making explicit choices to do some things and not others. I facilitate powerful sessions with leaders that result in a clear definition of the path forward.
Rapidly emerging changes and trends in the environment are impacting the validity and achievement of what initially look like good ideas and directions. The continual monitoring of potential trends and impacts and shifting the direction as required to respond to these changes is a critical component of the creating clarity process. At the corporate level, this is about defining overall direction for the enterprise. At the sub-business unit level it is about articulating how that business unit contributes to the overall direction of the enterprise.
I have outlined below what I believe are the most concrete and valuable elements that create clarity of direction and provide a foundation that will enable people across the organization to ensure their work is clearly aligned. The following is a model that summarizes these elements.
Creating Clarity Model
Purpose answers the question ‘why does the organization exist?’ It defines how the organization contributes to a better world and defines the outcomes and impact of the work the organization does. It clarifies the underlying reason for being and existing. Patrick Lencioni states that “if leaders can’t define this, they cannot rightfully expect employees to get out of bed every morning with any sense of purpose beyond completing tasks and keeping their jobs.”
Core Focus and Niche
Core Focus and Niche defines the current state of what the organization does. It defines the set of products and services the organization currently provides, the customers being served, and the contribution the products and services are making to help customer achieve desired outcomes. It defines the unique niche within which the organization operates.
Vision and Future Aspirations
Ask an organization what their vision is and the response you will likely get is a one liner vision statement that sounds like a corporate slogan. One-liner slogans are not vision. Vision defines what the organization could become and is a set of aspirations that define what ‘winning’ looks like. These aspirations should ignite passion and build commitment. Vison should provide an insight into what the future will look like. The timeframe of vision is both long and shorter term. A 10 plus year vision provides a long-term picture of a desired future state, whereas a 3 to 5-year vision provides achievable benchmarks along the way to the desired future.
Core Values (How to Behave)
Core values are the few essential and enduring principles that guide behaviours and decisions. This is not a laundry list of every desired behaviour, it is the identification of the few core values that will drive all decisions and actions in the organization.
Environmental Analysis Including Opportunities and Challenges
Today’s rapid pace of change necessitates an ongoing review and assessment of trends and issues that could impact the future of the organization. What was known 5 years ago, last year and sometimes last month is often no longer relevant to what is occurring today. Market and technological innovation opportunities can emerge rapidly and need to be explored as well as emerging internal and external challenges that could or will get in the way of success. Internally, these can include insufficient capability or a resistant culture. Externally there are short and longer term economic, political, market and social changes that could provide unique opportunities or adversely impact success. These changes are often unpredictable; however, their potentiality needs to be assessed and strategies and actions to respond to these changes need to be defined.
Strategies for Success (How to Win)
Strategies define the high-level plan of action or a ‘game plan’ for taking advantage of opportunities, overcoming obstacles, and moving forward. Strategies define how the organization will achieve its 3 to 5-year vision and are the intentional directions that guide decision making and provide a ‘lense’ through which decisions must be evaluated to ensure consistency and alignment. Strategies also define how the organization will both preserve its’ fundamental purpose and core focus while stimulating progress towards the vision. Strategies should also explicitly define what the organization will not be doing or undertaking.
Goals and Actions (Most important right now)
Goals are the few precise priorities that will guide the organization over a defined time frame, typically one-year. They should be specific and measurable. Actions are the 90-day rolling priorities that need to be accomplished for the 1-year goal to be achieved.
Execution and Staff Engagement
Too many strategic plans end up as nothing more than documents on a shelf. Directions need to be broadly communicated and there needs to be opportunity for dialogue throughout the organization on what needs to be in place if they are is to be achieved and staff need to be engaged in defining individual actions for implementation and execution.