Consider where you want to go before examining where you are
When I’m working with executives who are determining their strategic direction, I advise that we establish the vision of the future before assessing the current state.
I learned this lesson over 20 years ago. Start with the vision, not the reality. This way, the vision has a better chance of becoming the reality.
There are two reasons that starting strategy formulation with vision is so important:
1. Vision Focuses Dialogue on Strategic Intent.
When we start by defining where we want to be, subsequent descriptions of our current condition will be painted in the context of this “future state.” As a result, our plans will include only those elements that will be most relevant to getting to this future. It will also, by and large, exclude those elements that are irrelevant to our future, and therefore not worth spending any time or energy on.
Alternatively, if we start by analyzing where we are now as a baseline, that becomes the foundation. In this scenario, any discussion of the future will be built, at least partially, and perhaps subconsciously, as an extension of current thinking and current problems, rather than envisioning a powerful new future.
2. Vision sets the Energy Dial to Build Positive Vibrations.
When we’re talking “desired future state,” there is a tendency for the participants to focus on upbeat possibilities – it’s a more “expanding” tone. It’s in this mental state that ideas flow easily and build on one another, and people get excited about the possibilities and increase their passion to make it a reality.
If we start at where we are now, while there may be plenty of positive elements, the very nature of who we are as human beings will cause us to identify some things that are “wrong,” “lacking,” or “just not there yet.” As a result, the energy in the room is mixed, tiring, and focused on “evaluation” rather than “creation.”
So, the most productive step on the strategic path, then, is to identify where you’d rather be in three years, …or one, …or ten.