The Beauty of a Blueprint

By Rita Barreto Craig President, Top Tier Leadership | March 10, 2019

On the day I started my own business, more than 20 years ago, I knew what I hoped to achieve. But did I have a detailed blueprint? A roadmap to success?

Not really

 I had a great name. I had more than two decades of experience in a Fortune 500 company. I had energy and passion and . . . well, you know. Still, this was a new challenge, and the butterflies were fluttering madly in my stomach.

But I dived in, and happily, I survived and thrived. Since then, among the many things I've learned, is a simple truth: To get where you want to go in business, it helps to have directions -- a carefully considered, written strategy. That's especially important today, as we deal with techniques, tests and technologies few people even envisioned a decade ago.

 I've also found that the blueprint for developing and implementing a strategic plan is basically the same for a startup, established company, division or department. What's key at the outset is understanding the why of creating one for your organization.

 "Why?" Having a clearly defined direction helps you establish priorities, it places accountability across the organization and it helps everyone prioritize activities. In a finely tuned organization, every employee should understand the direction of the company and how he/she drives achievement of the vision.

Without a clearly defined and articulated strategy, employees may feel like they are swimming in jello! Priorities become blurred and the highest priorities may get lost. Think about your competition. If they have a clearly articulated plan, who do you think will win in this very competitive environment? Don't waste time focusing on what matters least, focus on three to five key strategies that will drive success.

If the effort starts at the top, it is important to involve your leadership team to gain commitment. Engage in a highly interactive dialog about the current and desired environment and what it will take to excel. Don't be like some leaders who keep a virtual strategy locked in their heads. They may know where their company needs to be and what it will take to get there. The secret is to create a shared plan.

Like many of us with busy lives, you may feel that you're constantly juggling to manage all your responsibilities. Focus on the activities that are import to success. It simplifies decision-making and prevents distractions. Those activities are aligned with your priorities so you use your resources most efficiently. Write the plan down on paper. That's more important than you might think because it communicates the message more effectively.

Experts emphasize another component -- understanding and defining a company's vision and mission.

Your mission is your motivation. It's what you do in other words, your purpose. The value of a mission statement is that it defines your organization for others. Be creative. Some mission statements are simply a list of what the company does. Go deeper and think of the impact of what you do. Another way of thinking about it is to consider what would happen if your company went away. What would not get done? A mission statement should be ten words or less. I've lost track of how many two paragraph mission statements I've read! Short, impactful and memorable is the way to go!

Your vision is aspirational. It looks to the future, what you want to become. It's a desired future state. A vision encourages growth and innovation and provides direction and purpose. It asks: What are our hopes and dreams? Who and what are we inspiring to change? Are we being bold enough, brave enough, in setting our targets? If your local newspaper were to write a headline about your company five years from now and highlight your success, what do you want it to say? Think big.

From it come your strategic priorities, how to reach them and how they impact the company culture. What do you want to do -- increase the community's awareness of your products or services? Improve people's skills in various areas? Maximize technology? Also, consider identifying an objective or two that all departments must adopt. For instance, an objective about safety or quality. Be sure to write them as measurable goals so that you can celebrate achievements along the way. 

Mission and vision are more than mere words. Properly implemented, they chart a course to achievement. Undergirding them -- supporting and strengthening them -- are your values, which define your identity for those both inside and outside the organization. What are your ethics, your principles, your standards for behavior? What does everyone believe in?

These values don't change, and they help in your decision-making and in recruiting and retaining the best employees. Thanks to today's technological wizardly, potential prospects may already have informed themselves about your organization's values.

 Jim Collins, author of Good to Great and books on sustainability and growth, offers a cautionary message.

"Executives spend too much time drafting, wordsmithing, and redrafting perfect vision statements, mission statements, values statements, purpose statements and aspiration statements. They spend nowhere near enough time trying to align their organizations with the values and visions already in place."

In other words, don't concentrate on the forest when the trees are right in front of you.

 "Vision is one of the least understood and most overused terms," he says. "It's simply a combination of three elements: an organization's reason for existence (beyond making money), its unchanging core values, and the aspirations for its future. The most important are core values."

What's the difference between values and strategies?

"Core values are fixed regardless of the time and regardless of both internal and external factors. Strategies and practices, on the other hand, should be changing all the time." To me, core values are statements about what's important to you. It's about how you will treat each other.

Collins has another pithy question: If you woke up tomorrow with enough money to retire, would you continue to hold on to these core values? The book Startup Culture: Values vs. Vibe by Chris Moody, COO of Gnip, may also be of interest.

Monitoring a strategic plan should be an equally important objective. You've spent a good deal of time and perhaps money creating a strategy that seems to fit you well. Now use it. Set a regular time to review it -- perhaps monthly -- to see how well you're achieving your goals. Prepare a short report for your board and employees that will help them in their planning and keep you acutely aware of your progress.

There is no dearth of reading material on this subject. Rich Horwath, considered one of the foremost experts on strategic thinking, has written six books, including Deep Dive: The Proven Method for Building Strategy and Elevate: The Three Disciplines of Advanced Strategic Thinking. He has worked with companies such as Google, FedEx, Intel, and Dell and created a spectrum of strategic thinking resources for managers at all levels. Business leaders worldwide read his monthly e-publication Strategic Thinking.

Here are some of the elements he cites for a good strategy process:

Discovery: Pulling together current intelligence on the market, customers and competitors.

Strategic Thinking:Using a structured set of questions, models and frameworks to generate new insights that become the foundation for differentiated strategy.

Strategic Planning: Channeling the new business insights into an action plan designed to achieve goals and objectives.

Strategic Rollout:Employing a thoughtful approach to communicating and translating the strategy throughout the business group or organization.

Horwath also suggests a "strategy tune-up," regular meetings to review the strategy and, if necessary, make useful changes. The best plan may not serve you well unless you monitor it. That means following your blueprint, and not letting it suffer from SPOTS, or Strategic Plan On The Shelf. Most experts consider monitoring essential since it helps identify the most efficient use of resources.

"Great strategy requires bold trade-offs," he adds. "Bold trade-offs require the discipline to say no. The clearer you are on what you're not going to offer, which types of customers you're not going to serve, and the areas you're not going to invest in, the greater focus your business will have."

Valerie Grubb, founder of Val Grubb & Associates, focuses on executive leadership and management. Her expertise includes what she calls transposing company vision into strategic learning initiatives that are received well by both senior management and employees.

To understand how being a strategic thinker can boost your career, she suggests asking yourself these questions: What needs to change for our business now? What people will we need several years from now? What are the high-visibility projects that lead to a more important role and greater income?

 Share your vision, she says. Welcome new ideas. Spend time with your employees envisioning your organization's future. You might be surprised how pleased many are to participate in the planning. Involving them increases engagement. When I'm conducting strategic planning sessions, I'm amazed at how many times employees tell me that it's the first time they have ever been asked to participate.

 A final thought: As you draw your own blueprint, don't get lost in the weeds. Remember that a blueprint is simply a guide for creating something, a design to follow.

Ms. Craig Rita Barreto Craig helps leaders and organizations build winning cultures, deliver results and maximize performance. She is an award-winning international consultant, author, and motivational speaker. Ms. Craig serves on a variety of boards including Vice Chair of Discover the Palm Beaches. With a long list of impressive companies who have benefited from her talents and vast experience, Ms. Craig formed Top Tier Leadership over twenty years ago and includes satisfied clients throughout the world including China, Singapore, Mexico, Canada and Brazil. She has developed and implemented hundreds of customized strategies and presentations. A master in the art of listening and communicating, no two clients, keynote addresses or coaching sessions are ever the same for Ms. Craig. Each is treated with a personal approach to fit the client's needs. Her ability to connect with each client to provide relevant content and measurable results consistently rewards her with top ratings from attendees around the world. Ms. Craig can be contacted at 561-775-3396 or toptierleadership@gmail.com Please visit http://www.toptierleadership.com for more information. Extended Biography

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