Every purpose is established by counsel:
and with good advice make war. – Proverbs 20:18
Write down this vision;
clearly inscribe it on tablets
so one may easily read it. – Habakkuk 2:2 (HCSB)
It is that time of year when companies, parastatals and serious-minded individuals are giving serious thought to what their next year will be like. A little over one month into the end of one year, it is natural to set expectations for an incoming one. However, while it is one thing to set expectations, it is another thing to actually plan to achieve those expectations. This is where the line of distinction is drawn between leaders and the average Joe. Everybody has wishes and desires. But not everybody strategically engages that desired future through strategic plans to get there. No wonder the popular aphorism says that if wishes were horses, even beggars will ride.
A good plan is more than half the job done. A plan is a road-map that tells you the specific route or routes to travel in order to arrive at a destination. With a road-map, your journey is smoother and faster with fewer possibilities of unnecessary detours. Talk is cheap; and according to the Chinese, talk does not cook rice. This is why most new year resolutions are broken less than one week after they are made.
The hallmark of quality leadership is the ability to dream or envision and to develop a strategy architecture that brings that dream into the realm of possibilities of fulfillment. Why? Those who merely dream of acquiring lots of money will wake up and discover to their chagrin that the money you make in your dream is not legal tender in the marketplace of daily existence.
No matter how hard you work, without a strategic plan, your outcomes are still at risk. The sequence of meaningful and easy achievement is dream, plan, work and evaluate, using your desired outcome or dream as your benchmark in the assessment of progress.
I wish I could tell you the best formula for success in your pursuit. However, this I can confidently tell you. Any proven method that you adopt based on certain empirical studies that you have made, is better than no formula at all. Strategy is the driver of success. Wars are fought and won primarily on superior strategy not necessarily superior weaponry. In the verse of scripture quoted above, the word “advice” can also read “counsel”, “guidance” or “strategy”.
“What if my strategy does not work?”, you ask. Well, how would you have known if you never had one? The more experienced you get at putting various strategic formulae to work, the more proficient you become at accomplishing your goals. Strategic planning is an indispensable ally in decision-making. The more strategic you are, the more impactful your decisions will be.
The master key to success is the ability to set and achieve desired goals. You must first clearly define what you want to accomplish. Every strategy or plan must lead to a destination. Your destination should guide your strategy. If your destination is called Nowhere, any road you travel will get you there. Only a fanatic redoubles his efforts after his original aim has been forgotten.
Having resolved the issue of a specific destination, you must also ask the methodology or “How?” question. The third question is the assumption question. This has to do with certain things you can almost predict will have an influence on your outcomes. Issues like government policies, economy, operating environment, personnel, resources, stakeholder structure, etc. The more accurate your assumptions are in these areas, the more likely are you to achieve your desired objectives. In making assumptions, never forget to admit that you could go off tangent. Your name is not Omniscient. So you can be wrong! Note that at the beginning of a task, your assumptions may be right. However, as the task progresses, the facts may change. A sudden change in government policy may have far-reaching effects on your goals and so warrant a change in your assumption parameters. One day, Albert Einstein was returning to his office after giving out the examination questions to his students in the examination hall. He was then teaching Physics at Oxford University. He was met on the way by his assistant who asked a question, “Sir, wasn’t that the same set of questions you gave the same set of students last year?”
“Yes it is”, replied Einstein.
“But sir, would you mind telling me why you did that?” the assistant asked. Looking him straight in the eye Einstein replied, “Because the answers have changed”! The only constant thing about life is change. In life, and in our field of work, the answers keep changing even when the challenges are the same. Like changing answers, strategies also evolve. Jesus Christ was God’s change of strategy when Plan A, a.k.a Adam, failed! Nothing about a plan is cast in concrete. Great leaders learn to incorporate that possibility into their assumptions and are quick to make adjustments as necessary instead of whining and moaning about an already altered status quo over which they have no control. Always ask yourself at every point if there is a better way that you may not have thought about.
One method of strategic planning that I recommend very strongly is what Brian Tracy in his book High Performance Leadership calls the GOSPA method of strategic planning which provides a guide on how, when and where to take certain decisions based on your well-enunciated strategic plan. You can apply this method in almost every facet of life and function where there are objectives to be achieved. The GOSPA method refers to Goals, Objectives, Strategies, Plans and Activities.
Let us begin with goals. This speaks about the things you desire to achieve, short or long-term and within certain specified time frameworks. Goals are both qualitative and quantitative. The qualitative aspect deals with the issue of reputation. How do we want to be known or remembered in our market, operating environment or office? Underlying the qualitative dimension is the issue of our operating ethics or value system. The quantitative goals deal with numbers, market share and other operational issues as well as brick and mortar issues of buildings, renovations, machinery etc.
Whether qualitative or quantitative, goals should be clear, specific and expressed in writing. The more specific a goal is, the higher the likelihood of achievement. Secondly, in setting your goals, there must be parameters that make them measurable. When goals are measurable, we are also making them achievable. In setting goals, we must also be realistic, giving considerations to possibilities of alterations in the underlying assumptions. A goal is nothing but a vision with a deadline. Your goals should therefore be time-bound. Where there is no time-frame for the achievement of a goal, the journey towards its achievement is usually tortuous and a drudgery. A time-frame makes evaluation easy and progress trackable. Targets are easier to set when conceptualized within a time frame.
This is what has been described as the S.M.A.R.T principle in goal-setting… To be continued.
Remember, the sky is not your limit, God is!