Brian Chesky, CEO, Airbnb said, “If you can’t fit your strategic plan on a page or two, you’re not simplifying it enough.”
As the cloud of dust settled around our jeep, the guide announced that we had arrived at the airport. In the distance was a single structure no bigger than a local post office, and a solitary strip of asphalt. My wife and I walked with duffel bags in hand and boarded the puddle jumper taking us from one camp site in Kenya, Africa to another.
What I remember most about that short flight twenty years ago was that for a majority of time in the air, the plane flew only a few hundred feet above the ground.
This level of elevation was just high enough to be above the action on the ground yet low enough to observe it in detail. I recall the striking scene of a male lion strolling majestically through the savanna and herds of zebras splintering off like Moses parting the Red Sea.
We often hear the expression “taking a 30,000 foot view of the business,” where one elevates their thinking to extreme heights to see the bigger picture. However, once that bigger picture has been created through the development of purpose, mission, vision, values, and business model core competencies, capabilities, value chain, etc., the “puddle-jumper view of the business” can be a highly effective complement to help you implement that big picture.
It’s common for executives moving into a new organization or leadership role to create a 90-day strategic plan. It’s uncommon for executives to continue this practice once they are in the role. However, this abbreviated planning time frame is useful because it’s short enough to create a sense of urgency, and long enough to accomplish things.
One of the challenges I’ve observed is the ability to use a plan to drive daily activities. Research by the Human Capital Media Research Group found that only about 50 percent of managers use goals and objectives to drive their daily activity. Typically, when people have a plan, it’s carved out as a 1- or 3-year plan, and these are certainly important guides. But, often times the missing link is that puddle-jumper view of the next 90-days.
To help executive teams with this challenge, I developed the Leader Propulsion 90-Day Plan. The tool consists of three pages:
Page 1: Insights and Performance
Page 2: People and Priorities
Page 3: Action Plan
Page 1 is focused on insights, which I define as learnings that lead to new value. By placing insights at the beginning, it acts as a behavioral trigger to move leaders to actively generate and capture them as a part of what they do. Categories of insights might include customer, team, business, and culture.
Page 2 establishes the focus on priorities and people. As I review hundreds of plans each year in preparation for my strategy facilitation and strategic coaching roles, one area that is typically neglected in a plan is the identification of key people. While priorities consist of the activities, initiatives, and projects that drive your business, it’s critical to also take a strategic look at the people who contribute to their accomplishment. Key people may include customers, select members of the board of directors, peers, direct reports, suppliers, and vendors. What are the development activities you have in place to continue to build and nurture those relationships?
Page 3 channels your insights and priorities into an action plan. The action plan needs to answer two questions:
1. What are you trying to achieve?
2. How will you achieve it?
I’ve found it useful to answer those questions by identifying the goals and objectives (what you are trying to achieve), and the strategies and tactics (how you will achieve them). There are a number of other elements that can be customized to this area based on your business, but be sure to answer those two key questions.
At the heart of your plan are the activities, which act as the hub for purpose, people, and resources. A common sign an organization is missing the discipline to make trade-offs, which in turn acts as the filter within the strategy, is the proliferation of activities to the point that people are drowning in them. Consider your team: is there a clear set of 3-5 priorities on which the majority of your activities are based?
The challenge for any leader is the issue of being too high up from the business to provide necessary oversight of activity or too deep in the tactical weeds to lead at the appropriate level. Great leaders find that rare air between the 30,000 foot-view of the business and the ground. They use this space to provide strategic direction with a sense of urgency. They understand that activity must be anchored in value. Does your leadership team have a puddle-jumper view of the business that’s represented in a 90-day strategic plan? It’s the difference between being the lion strolling, and the zebras scattering.