A squid fishing boat ended up off the western shore of Canada a year after the 2011 Japanese tsunami. Without anyone on board to navigate, it still crossed the Pacific intact, illustrating a paraphrase of an old saying, “if you don’t know where you’re going, any current will get you there.”
I’ve seen too many companies follow a strategy of drifting with the current in their market. They believe that as long as they focus on making payroll this month and not running out of cash this year, all will be fine. Companies with this strategy will survive as long as they are in a strong, growing market, on the principle that “a rising tide lifts all boats.”
However, as Warren Buffett observed, “You never know who’s swimming naked until the tide goes out.” In 2008, the tide went out for many companies. Overnight, some firms saw revenues drop over 30%, and many a successful company ran aground. We also observed other companies that not only survived, they thrived, rebounded and took advantage of the recovery. The difference between these companies and those that ran aground was that the thriving companies were navigating toward a goal rather than simply allowing themselves to float with the current.
So, is your company floating or navigating? Do you know where your organization wants to be within five years? This is a question we always ask of senior executives as part of helping them to create and implement their strategic plan.
Often, the team doesn’t understand the question. The typical response goes something like this: “Well, if we continue to grow at the current pace we should be as large as …” I say, “No — how big do you WANT to be? I’m not asking for a forecast or a projection. I want you to visualize the future in a way that informs your daily decisions.” To continue our nautical metaphor, forecasting is standing on the stern of the boat (at the back), looking at where you’ve been and projecting where the current will take you. Visualizing the future is standing on the bow (at the front of the boat) and scanning the horizon to plan where you want to go.
Imagine standing on the bow of the your boat, picking a point on the horizon and navigating to reach that port. Now imagine what happens when the senior team shares a common visualization of the goal the company is heading toward? What happens when the team’s daily decisions are based on everyone asking themselves, “Is this action consistent with reaching our goal? If not, what can I do to realign my actions — or our shared long-term goal?”
What happens is that individual decisions reinforce themselves, creating synergy. With a clear picture of their destination in mind, people quickly recognize every opportunity that can get them there quicker. Working back from the destination creates support for the investments in building the capabilities required to get there.
Strategic planning is as simple as determining where you are right now, where you want to go in the future, and what you need to focus on this year to navigate your way to the goal.
If you’re interested in having a facilitated strategic planning meeting that helps you navigate from concept to tangible implementation, check out our services, contact us by email, or better yet, give us a call at (800) 207-8192 to arrange for a complementary consultation to determine if our program is right for you and your organization is ready for the program.