A bird does not sing because it has an answer.  It sings because it has a song.

10 January 2011

Radical Alignment

Last week I attended a two-day strategic planning retreat with some colleagues I greatly admire. As we discussed my 2011 plan, I realized that it is just about as different from the one I wrote in 2006 as a plan could possibly be, and I was amazed at how far I have come in five years.

If you compared the two plans side by side, it would seem as though I had completely redefined my business from the ground up, and reinvented everything about it. In some ways, that's true. But it's not that I've gone from one end of a line to the other end. It's that I've gone from the edge of a circle to the center.

If you're a business owner or executive, perhaps you remember your early efforts at planning. You probably did what most of us (including me) do: you wrote a plan that said what you believed the bank or your mentors or your customers wanted to hear. It probably related a little bit to what you wanted to do, but it was mostly about making sure it sounded really impressive. You were going to synergize your team's core competencies for maximum stakeholder return (or something equally likely to guarantee a winner in Buzzword Bingo). When you tried to execute it, your plan was either incomprehensibly vague, or so specific that you threw up your hands in despair the first time it went off the rails.

After that, you might have attempted a rewrite, or just decided to "wing it." Somewhere along the line your business either started to go well or it didn't, and in any case you developed a profound distrust of the whole idea of "strategic planning." The phrase went into the buzzword bucket with "synergy" and "conceptualize" and "deliverables", never to be heard from again.

In my case, my business has changed a little, and my attitudes about what needs to go into a strategic plan have changed a LOT. My plan has always been easy to distill to one page (and I hope yours is, too). These days, that one page doesn't have very much "how" on it. It has "what" (mission, BHAG, critical success factors) and "why" (vision and values), but is free from the details that change all the time anyway. I've gained clarity on the whats and whys in ways I could never have imagined five years ago. Most importantly, the plan is now radically aligned.

There is no disconnect, anymore, between what my plan says and what I want, believe, and aspire to accomplish. There are no tasks on my plan that I hate or dread. There are no values or goal categories that someone else told me to put there, or that are just meant to look good to the bank. My plan is uniquely and profoundly mine. And I know it is exactly what I'm supposed to be doing.

How about you? Is your plan radically aligned with your dreams, your talents, and your passions? What would you have to take out, change, or add to get there?