It is exciting to begin a new year with goals and aspirations for your business. Most companies establish annual goals as part of their operating plan; longer-term strategic plans are built on initiatives that move the business toward a future state vision.
Annual and strategic plans are essential to long-term success, yet frequently overlook an important step — deconstruction.
Consider the annual plan. Adjusted for holidays and weekends, there are about 248 business days each year, 62 days per quarter, roughly 21 operating days per month. Twenty-one opportunities each month to make and execute decisions about which activities you and your team engage in to have the greatest impact. Daily opportunities to focus resources — human and physical — on activities aligned with vision fulfilment. Success emanates from choosing the right activities that are aligned with the organization’s vison and effectively executed.
The strategic leadership question: How will you influence selection of the right activities, performed effectively, each day this month to move your business as far as possible in the direction of your long-term vision?
Here are three ideas to help you answer this question and raise your strategic leadership acumen:
1. De-emphasize the annual calendar
It may seem counterintuitive yet managing exclusively to the annual plan has drawbacks. Big goals can be overwhelming. Deconstructing each into digestible pieces makes goals more manageable and better informs the activities necessary for successful fulfilment.
While a company’s vision changes infrequently, the path to its fulfilment can change as conditions shift. Managing to monthly goals enables greater flexibility when early signs of changing conditions emerge. The best strategic plan is one that guides daily activities executed in alignment with the long-term vision.
2. Compare plans with activity capacity
Deconstructing annual and strategic plans into daily activities, performed in increments of 21 business days, enables managers to ask: How does the plan compare with our capacity to perform required activities? Can we realistically perform this set of tasks effectively over the next calendar month?
Understanding capacity is a powerful foundation for establishing goals, even those requiring a stretch. “Good to Great” author Jim Collins describes “Big Hairy Audacious Goals” as a powerful mechanism to stimulate progress, as they require building for the long term and exuding a relentless sense of urgency today. Leaders must combine the drive to achieve aspirational goals with a clear understanding of the organization’s capacity. From there, they must allocate capacity for the highest, greatest application of all resources.
3. Daily gut checks
Perhaps the greatest challenge leaders face is managing their attention. Continuous distractions operate like an undercurrent pulling us from our focus. Much of our time is not within our control. Leader effectiveness is heavily impacted by use of discretionary time — that portion of your calendar you do control. Apply attention during discretionary time to those activities where you can have the greatest impact and contribute the largest ROI.
Gut check questions are:
- Where will I add the greatest value to the organization today?
- How do I make the most of my discretionary time today in alignment with the organization’s goals?
- Which activities will have the lowest ROI from investing my attention, and should be avoided?
Leaders set the tone through focus and alignment with organizational priorities. Making our time count enhances productivity and demonstrates strategic leadership on a daily basis.
Making every day count means aligning today’s activities with the organization’s vision. Why focus on vision? An ancient proverb says vision without action is a daydream; action without vision is a nightmare.
When organizations begin with a clear picture of their contribution to the world and why it matters, they establish a destination. Everything else follows vision: priorities, activities, processes, and results.
Dave Coffaro is a strategic advisor, executive coach and author. Coffaro is principal of the Strategic Advisory Consulting Group, a management consultancy, and co-founder of Atticus, a fintech firm providing individuals and professional advisors with easy to use, do-it-yourself tools for fiduciary-based activities. His new book, “Leading from Zero,” will be available in early 2021.