Visions to Goals: Making it real

I recently wrote about having a clear and compelling vision to inspire your team, guide their decisions and to keep you going through the ups and downs of running your business.

rowingaboatBut creating a clear and compelling vision isn’t enough. You need to consistently and repeatedly communicate that vision to as many people as will listen, as often as possible. So you need to tell stories that recognize times when decisions were made in accordance with the vision, you need to show examples of what achieving that vision might look like, you need to break it down and make it understandable to everyone.

One of the important ways you can do that is by building a short-term plan. For most organizations, the vision is something that you might be able to accomplish over 50 − 100 years. While this provides a great landmark for people that can guide their actions and decisions over the long-term, it doesn’t give folks a lot of help for what to do today or next week. That’s where you as the leader need to break it down for them.

The Strategic Plan

The first level of “breaking it down” is usually called a strategic plan. A strategic plan takes into account the resources, challenges and opportunities that the enterprise has before it and isolates the most important initiatives that the enterprise is going to commit to for the coming year, or quarter. These initiatives should all have a role in moving the team closer to that vision. A good strategic plan usually means choosing 3 − 5 things to focus on out of 15 − 20 great options, but by focusing on just a few it ensures that you can make progress on (or even complete) those few rather than exhausting your resources trying to move 10 or more things forward.

So for example, if your vision is to “develop a sustainable creative community for web designers and developers to enable frictionless online commerce”, you might have annual initiatives to launch one social commerce project in 2013, improve your profit margin to 15% of sales, and win 3 usability awards for projects completed in the last 12 months. Each of these goals is specific and measurable with a defined timeframe.

The Operational Plan

Once your leadership team has chosen those few initiatives that they will prioritize and commit resources to, you have to break it down further. How are you going to complete these initiatives? Each of them needs a specific plan of action, with dates and people responsible for their completion. Sometimes it can clarify things to ask the question, “Who am I going to yell at if this isn’t completed? Whose job, career and reputation is on the line for this?” If the answer is “nobody” then it’s likely to fail.

Using our example from above, if we were operationalizing the initiative to “Improve profit margin to 15%” we might set objectives in each department. Business Development should issue all new proposals at a $150/hr blended rate; the Design department should have 98% of projects with 2 revisions or less; the programming team might be introducing a new code repository that should enable the reuse of more code resulting in programming cost as a % of sales to be reduced 3%… In this way each department can see how they are contributing; and each department can assign individuals accountable for completing the steps needed to achieve the department goal.

Having cascading goals enable each member of the team to feel their own responsibility and accountability for the company initiatives. They can see how their efforts will contribute to the success of the whole.

Departmental Plans

In larger organizations it’s important to keep breaking this down further so that each department (and ultimately each individual) can see how their actions can contribute to achieving the initiatives you’ve chosen to pursue. This answers the question: How can what I do every day help contribute to achieving our vision?

How do you break down your big goals into smaller chunks? Does every team member know how their efforts contribute to the whole?

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