Most organizations have a strategic plan. Most have a mission statement and a vision. These are tools and statements that help define our business and provide parameters and definitions. These tools have another role and that is to rally all stakeholders to be enthused about the journey into the future.
The future is “visionland.” Visionland is usually delineated by a wonderful descriptive statement about what’s at the end of the journey — a description full of great adjectives and words such as “leadership,” “value,” “the best,” the “biggest” and similar terms. Visionland sometimes has a broad geographic and/or demographic descriptor, such as in the world, in North America, in New England or for the mass market or for the luxury market.
While all of this sounds good, it really is not as specific as one would think and likely is obsolete before anyone achieves it. It reminds me of the often-quoted statement, “same behavior (strategies) same results.”
Unfortunately, this is no longer true. The same strategies might have resulted in the same results, but today they often result in obsolescence, bankruptcy or failure. There are numerous examples in every industry sector, from retail to service to manufacturing. Why are big-box retailers failing? Why does a factory shut down? Why does an institution close its doors? It is not because they did not have a deserving mission, wonderful vision or even a strategic plan.
Failure is caused by not recognizing, accepting and responding to change. Failure is caused by not having a real and clear destination. Failure is caused by focusing on “visionland” versus a destination.
Our operating environment and our market are changing at an even faster rate, accelerated by technology and societal demands. The overwhelming majority of consumers today are purchasing everything from airline tickets to their education to their retail needs over the Internet. Ordering websites and self-help systems have replaced salespeople; online courses have eliminated the heavy capital expense for classrooms; at-home shopping has made it more convenient and provided greater choices. Technology is directly addressing the societal need to save time, the need for speed and convenience. Technology has provided better and more efficient ways to conduct business. It is doing so at an alarming rate.
This brings me back to a destination versus visionland. Imagine a pilot, master of a cruise ship, or CEO stating our vision is to go west over the next 36 months. Now does west mean Seattle or San Diego, the Pacific Ocean or Rocky Mountains or all of these?
This is visionland.
A destination is specific. In this analogy, everyone would be more comfortable and have a clearer understanding if this journey was a little more specific and defined: “We will arrive in San Francisco at 10 p.m.”
The same precision is required in business and it can be described as a destination. The destination has descriptors such as make money (profit), grow the business (revenue), quantified and with a time frame. The strategic plan is a road map or path that explains to all stakeholders how they will reach that destination and when. Everyone in the business or organization clearly sees the destination and their role in getting there.
Unlike visionland, a destination has clarity, specificity, processes and systems to support all. The destination road map is followed every day, adjusted for bad weather (setbacks), changed to take advantage of new roads (technology), and responsive to change. The operations (cash-generating engines) are regularly fine-tuned to produce smoother flow and greater speed.
Accepting the destination as your goal also means adjusting your decision process. Priorities become those decisions thatdirectly lead to the specific quantified goal/destination. All other decisions are either low priority or not worthy of being discussed or implemented. Your time needs to be focused on that which really counts to navigating to that specific destination. All else is like a vision, a diversion from the course that throws you off target.
So change your plan, establish a clear destination and enjoy the ride on the road to revenue, growth and prosperity.
Ronald A. Nykiel, dean of the College of Business at Husson University, is a member of the National Association of Corporate Directors, has authored a number of books on management, marketing and strategic planning, and is chairman and CEO of Avenues, a management consulting group.