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What’s In Your Crystal Ball for 2010?

By Holly G. Green

2009 is almost over, and wow, what a year:

GM finally declared bankruptcy, despite the government paying upwards of $2 billion for old cars in the “cash for clunkers deal.”  Huge banks readily accepted billions of dollars in government bailouts while individual mortgage holders continued to lose their homes. The economists kept insisting the recession was over, although one of every 10 Americans still didn’t have a job. And to top it all off, we still don’t have a national health care plan that everyone can agree on.

In a world where seemingly anything is possible, how can we know what lies ahead in 2010? For most people, attempting to peer into the crystal ball is a fun but meaningless exercise. But for those who have bottom-line responsibilities, having at least some ability to anticipate and plan for the future is a business imperative. In days gone by, strategic planners typically looked five to ten years out. These days, it’s difficult to predict with much accuracy what will happen even 18 months out. What you can do as a business leader is strive to gain some clarity around where to focus your time, attention and resources in order to maximize your chances of success over the next 12 months.

To obtain this much-needed clarity, start by asking questions in four key areas:

Destination.   Attempting to make sense of the future begins with identifying your destination. Ask yourself two questions: Where are we going in the next 12 months? What does it look like when we get there?

Answering these questions allows you to define what winning (or excellence) means for your organization. Get very clear on your definition of winning, and make sure everyone understands what you mean. And don’t limit the language to strictly financial terms such as revenue, margins or profitability. By themselves, these measures mean very little to most employees. Instead, supplement your operating goals by defining other elements of your destination, such as:

  • The skills, knowledge and abilities you want in your organization

  • The organizational structures, processes and programs that will serve you best

  • Any tools, systems and technology needed to get the job done

  • All products currently on the market and in development

  • Who the customer will be and how many you will have

  • Who your competitors will be and what types of companies you will be competing against when you reach your desired destination

  • How you will be known by your market and the public at large

  • What will your brand represent

  • What type of corporate culture will exist, including the attitudes and beliefs of everyone involved

After you get clear on your destination, compare it to current reality and identify any gaps that need to be addressed. This provides the information you need to plan and execute. Then create a picture of your destination and constantly communicate it to employees. You will be amazed at how others will respond and align when they have a clear definition of where they’re going.

Purpose. Once you know where you’re going, take a look at why you’re doing it. Ask three specific questions:

  • What is going on in my sector or industry, with my competitors and with my clients?

  • What is possible with my products, services or clients, currently and in the coming months?

  • Considering this information, why do we exist? What is the reason for our company or our team?

Hopefully, your answers will transcend the mundane and describe some noble purpose that is both inspirational and aspirational, one that instills pride in all those connected with the organization. If not, you may want to reconsider why you exist as an organization.

Guiding principles. These define in a general way how you will behave with each other on the journey to your destination. Ask:

  • What values and principles should direct our decisions and actions?

  • What types of behavior are acceptable within this organization?

  • What types of behaviors are not acceptable?

  • How do we want stakeholders outside the organization to think about us and act towards us?

In particular, guiding principles describe how you will behave when faced with difficult situations or challenges. As many companies learned the hard way, how you act during a crisis speaks volumes about who you really are.

Value propositions. Now more than ever, it is critical to understand the value your organization brings to customers or clients. And not just customers, but all of your stakeholders. For example:

  • What do customers expect from you (and are they getting it)?

  • How have their needs and expectations changed over the past year?

  • Why do employees come to work for your organization?

  • What kind of return can shareholders expect?

  • How does your community benefit from the work you do?

For each stakeholder group, get clear on what’s in it for them when they engage with you or your product and make sure you deliver consistently.

By now you should have the information necessary to define your areas of focus and begin devising strategies to get where you want to go. Strive to limit your strategic initiatives to a maximum of five, because if you have more than five, you don’t really have any at all. Then comes the hard part -- following through and implementing those strategies. But your task will be made much easier by the time invested upfront to answer these questions.

2010 will be here before we know it. So set aside some time in the days ahead to get together with your management team and start gazing into that crystal ball. Carving out the time to grapple with these important issue may prove to be a challenge. But in the coming year, nothing will increase your chances for success like taking the time to ‘slow down in order to go fast.’

Read other articles and learn more about Holly G. Green.

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