Define your future to guide the present

Define Your Future to Guide the Present

Smart organizations know that a mission-critical task is developing their strategic plans or project plans to guide marketing and sales activities over the next year. Some professionals find this exercise invigorating and enjoy the practice of looking ahead and setting strategies to help reach long-and-short-term organizational goals. 

And then there’s the rest of us.  

Planning can be complex and even painful. Some of our clients come to the table with well-defined vision statements, and others need an outside mirror to help guide them through this process. 

Here are a few common issues, problems, and hurdles we’ve witnessed over the years – and what we recommend to clients to help make this task much less painful and much more successful. 

The hurdles to successful planning

1. Not connecting the vision that drives your planning

Your planning must tie to measurable objectives. But it’s also important to ensure those objectives ladder up to your greater vision — your desired future in 10, 20, 30 years. Suppose your plans are tied to an evergreen goal of increasing customers, building perceptions, increasing SQLs (Sales Qualified Leads), or retaining customers. In those cases, those goals are fine as long as those objectives lead to a larger common vision.

2. Objectives are randomly assigned

Your objectives should ladder up to your larger vision and also reflect the environment you are doing business in. Do your objectives reflect what is happening in your industry or marketplace? Or the competitive environment? If an organization’s objectives are to simply increase all metrics by 10% annually, chasing that robotic growth becomes somewhat arbitrary and meaningless to employees implementing the plans.

3. Wordsmithing paralysis 

Crystallizing your vision is hard. It can be challenging to put structure and the perfect words around creating something that feels abstract and emotionally charged. Like other internal planning processes, the exercise can quickly devolve to debating the perfect word or capturing every activity an organization does. Then the purpose of the entire exercise gets lost. Yes, words matter, and there’s a time to fine-tune those words. But nailing the idea and values for the vision before the wordsmithing will lead you to a stronger message.

So, where should you begin planning while wisely integrating your objectives and vision?

Begin at the end

Think of your vision statement as the finish line (where you happen to be the winner). This is where all planning should start. It should be an explicit statement of what you would like to achieve in the next 30 years. It should be short, memorable, and aspirational. 

The questions that can spark your vision

Here are core questions to ask to develop a strong organizational vision:

  1. If resources weren’t an issue, where would your organization or company be in 30 years?
  2. What are you committed to that reflects something greater than your short-term objectives? This should capture your hopes, dreams, and be inspirational.
  3. What do you want to be famous for?
  4. What will your headline be in 10, 20, 30 years? While it sounds like a journalism 101 exercise, this question is great because headlines, by nature, are meant to invite a reader into learning more.

Who should participate? 

To help our clients through the vision and planning process efficiently, KW2 has developed a system that engages key stakeholders. We gather input from key members in the organization, including leaders all the way through to those who carry out the vision. Our experience has shown us that the best way to do this is through a small group of six to eight diverse voices who can envision an inspirational future and implement and execute the strategies to get you there. Our team also tends to cast a larger net to collect input from departments or individuals who can deliver on results and are close to the environment in which you do business.

Our process is flexible for clients and can also include surveys, key informant interviews, and workshops for input. Once the information is collected, we analyze and categorize it into common themes. Then, we rank those themes and help our clients reach stakeholder consensus (if needed) in the development of their vision and objectives. We know that wordsmithing nitpickers can occasionally take over the process. As part of our system, KW2 helps our clients’ stakeholders re-focus on the meaning behind the entire statement and not agonize over every word. 

Putting it all together

Once you have your unified focal point through a vision statement, you can start your strategic planning process. A strategic plan can be developed at any level of the company or organization – even for a specific program or product. However, the north star for every strategic plan should still be the shared, common vision. Depending on the role and responsibility you oversee within your organization, your next step is to answer the questions: how will you get to that north star? And how will you measure progress towards it?

For many clients, our KW2 teams are working on strategies that support the development of an overall marketing plan as part of a client’s strategic plan and clear objectives within it. This article is an oversimplification of what can be a complex process. Make the process too complicated, and nothing gets finished, agreed upon, or implemented. Make the process too simple, and internal decision-makers might lose faith in its strategic depth and validity. But what’s more damaging is not to try at all.

Here’s to a successful 2022, one that moves you and your team towards a unified, common vision.

Just remember, keep your vision statements short, dream big, and don’t let barriers hold you back. Or, as Ted Lasso said, “Don’t bring an umbrella to a brainstorm.”

Want to learn more about how KW2 can help your team build a vision and develop strategic plans? Contact KW2 CEO, Jennifer Savino.