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Element 2. Strategic priorities

What are the four or five things you absolutely have to get right in order to achieve this vision? These will be goals that will never change. You could decide to say, for example, that to achieve your vision for your new venture, you have to:

· build a stand-out brand;

· build your capabilities and skills;

· build more market-leading services.

For each of the three years of your journey, you would be able to monitor your progress in each of these key areas. Many companies suffer from ‘initiative overload’. Much of this is driven by the fact that people can’t see how these initiatives are helping to achieve the goals. By having strategic priorities that are constant, you can help people to understand that all the initiatives are helping you to get to your destination.

When describing your key priorities, there can be a significant difference between those things that you have to do to achieve this year’s targets and those that you have to do to prepare for the future. Countless times, I have seen employees confused by objectives that they think don’t relate to the immediate future and therefore become irrelevant to them. They often talk about ‘initiative overload’, because they feel that projects are being undertaken that make no sense from their perspective.

I have tried to illustrate this in Figure 5.2. When you prepare to climb a mountain, you can usually see the first peak that you have to scale, and you can see most of the steps along the journey that you’re going to have to make to get there. From that same position, you can usually see the top of the mountain, though the first peak may hide the route you will need to take once you have achieved your first goal and head towards the mountain top.

Figure 5.2: Preparing for the unknown

This analogy applies in business as well. You can see what you have to do to achieve this year’s budget. You may know what numbers you have to achieve at the end of your five-year plan, but you won’t know exactly how you’re going to get there. You have to anticipate what you’re going to need for that uncharted part of the journey, and are going to have to start getting yourself in a fit state to tackle this unknown territory.

To help make this clearer to employees, you need to distinguish between those actions required to achieve this year’s goal, and the things you’re doing to get the organization fit for purpose beyond that first peak.

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