Most savvy executives fully understand the value and necessity of doing strategic thinking and planning. After all, the saying goes, “Without a map every direction looks good."
There are many well-known planning tools for businesses to use as guides, such as Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ Big Hairy Audacious Goal, a blueprint for helping enterprises hone in on an objective, or Michael Porter’s Five Factor Analysis, which offers a model for companies to determine long-term viability by analyzing competitive advantage.
But while planning tools are very appropriate for defining the current state of a company as well as its desired future state, they rarely include a process for getting there.
Envisioning where your company will be in the future is important but the companies that are really great at executing their long-term vision do it 90 days at a time, focusing on bite-size pieces of progress that everyone in the company can understand and work toward collectively.
I have met with leaders at companies whose planning involves one-year cycles for goals. Usually, they're not very satisfied with the progress they have made. When I ask them how many of those 40- to 60 one-year initiatives they accomplished, the answer ends up being six to 10. It’s almost always a problem of too many, too big goals with too little ownership.
The huge volume of goals that most executives attempt to undertake amazes me. I met a senior executive recently who was complaining about how many things he had to get done. When I asked him the number of items he had on his “to-do” list, he opened his smartphone, checked something and replied “54.”
Who in the world could ever mentally, or in practice, deal with that many priorities? The same thing applies to companies setting goals.
Related: Why Our Brains Like Short-Term Goals
Here’s what to do. Routinely review the line items in your company's strategy plan or to-do list and prioritize the three to five that will have the greatest impact for the next 90 days. Identify and then work on the tactical bite-size pieces that have specific deliverables that can be measured.
If you set one-to three-year goals and then every quarter identify and prioritize the most significant three to five tactical actions, two things typically happen: Members of the leadership team start aligning themselves around the highest priorities and the company actually begins to achieve the goals that are most critical for the strategic plan.
An added benefit of setting 90-day bite-size goals is that it's easier to communicate to employees what the company’s most important objectives are.
Now, don’t expect every employee to be able to recite the strategic plan because that isn’t realistic.
But if you tell your people what's important for the company to accomplish in the next 90 days, ask every employee to know, “What can you do in your job in the next 90 days to support the company’s goals?”
Getting your people aligned around clear, understandable, short-term goals is what great execution of a strategy is all about.
So, while having a strategic plan is critical, leaders of great companies know that coming up with a bunch of one-year initiatives is a waste of time, especially if there isn’t a process articulated for achieving those goals.
Does your company have 90-days goals that employees are aware of and that the leadership team will focus on? Do employees have individual tasks to work on in support of these goals?