January marks the beginning of the new fiscal year in most companies. With every January comes a flurry of activity – headquarter and regional kick-offs to unveil the new theme, strategic direction, and goals and objectives for the coming year. Everyone in the company lines up to hear what’s on the agenda. Will there be another reorg, new leadership appointments, an acquisition or two? Are any businesses closing or are there new ones forming? Will the brand message change? Is there a restructure on the horizon with more layoffs? Among the employees are three groups. There are the hopefuls, the skeptics and the cynics. Hopefuls want something to be different and they are seeking clarity and direction. Skeptics are wondering if this is yet another attempt at convincing them that the year holds promise and things are going to fall into place. Cynics sit back and view the whole experience as the typical beginning of year rah- rah with little regard for what if anything will change.
I’ve often wondered what would happen if companies stayed the course and skipped the January kickoffs – just kept the focus on what they’ve been doing, reinforcing the activities and actions that were moving them and their people in the right direction. No new themes, the same direction and strategy for two to three years in a row allowing the opportunity to actually see something through to fruition. Wouldn’t that be a novel idea?
The dirty little secret about bringing a vision to reality is to be clear about where you want to go, why you want to go there, what you want to accomplish and how you plan to make it happen. The critical success factor in all of this is staying the course even when the road gets bumpy. Yes you may need to make some mid-course corrections along the way — no one has a crystal ball, but the goal is to keep at it long enough to see it through. So much of the time a course of action is abandoned too early in the game and any hope of reaching the original objective evaporates with it. Sticking with it long enough to see it through is more often than not the way to achieve success.
Let’s look at some of the successful turnarounds – GE, IBM, Apple most recently Ford. What did all of these businesses have in common? Their leaders established a clear direction for their companies, they clearly communicated it and they lined up their resources and assets in pursuit of their goals. Then they mapped out a three to five-year course and stuck with it. They stayed on message and kept stakeholders well-informed along the way. These leaders build coalitions and followers. They were not easily thwarted and they kept people in the conversation.
A vision is an imagined future. It is the dream. A direction is the course you want to take to achieve the dream. Strategy is the map for how you will get there. A business model is how you will make money and deliver value. Your assets and resources are the means to pursue these goals. You need all of these to successfully bring a vision to reality. A vision without a direction is an empty dream. A direction without a strategy is destination without a map to get there. A strategy without a well-defined business model can result in revenue and profit losses.
If you haven’t figured out how to harness your assets in pursuit of your goals or you don’t have the right resources in place to make things happen you will fail to bring your vision to reality. All these dots need to be connected. If they’re not, go back and get them connected. If they are, spell it out for all stakeholders, stay the course and lead people to the destination.
January kickoffs can make everyone from the executive leadership team to the hopefuls feel good-but if everything I’ve written about in this post is not in place — it will just be another fizzled attempt at breathing new life into your company or business.
Over the past several years I have witnessed first quarter results that are so poor that recovering from the plan misses can take the better part of the year if at all. One senior executive asked me for my assessment as to why results were so disappointing. My observation was that beginning with multiple kickoffs around the world that lasted through the middle of February, followed by operation reviews that took weeks to prepare decks for, the presentation of the decks, and the follow-up actions from the review requiring more deckware and action plans, all resulted in three months of describing work with no time to do any of it. It was not surprising that plans were missed and business was in the tank. It then becomes a vicious cycle. Poor results yield more reviews, more deckware, more meetings and no time to do the real work.
This is certainly not a recipe to bring Vision to Reality. If what I’ve shared sounds all too familiar — you can change it. It’s not too late to put your business and your people on the right course and stick with it!
Rose Fass is the CEO and founder of fassforward Consulting Group. She is the author of the book, The Chocolate Conversation, Lead Bittersweet Change, Transform Your Business. Follow her on twitter @rosefass
- Create an Adaptive Culture for Embracing Change (vistage.com)