Have you ever wondered if your organization is heading down the right road to success? Or maybe you’ve found yourself at a fork in the road where you had to choose between multiple options. Your choice might be the difference between success or failure so choosing well was critical. Lewis Carroll describes the scenario very poignantly in his classic Alice in Wonderland: “One day Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? she asked. Where do you want to go? was his response. I don't know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn't matter.”
As I work with management and leadership teams in business and nonprofit contexts, I encounter many who are either asking the same question without a very clear sense of their long term direction, or they assume they’re all agreed on where it is they’re headed. Often they never take the time to test the assumption. Some are so consumed by the tyranny of the urgent that their desired destination is to extinguish today’s fires and make it through to tomorrow. Occasionally I meet some who aren’t even asking the question. Maybe you’re asking yourself the question as to whether you’re on the right road. How would you determine if you were or not?
Important Road Signs
In working with a client recently I asked the management team to write out what they understood to be their strategy statement. They were surprised with the results! While there were nuances of the overall strategy in each of the individual statements, no two were exactly the same. Prior to this exercise they assumed they were all heading down the same road but upon seeing the results, it initiated some great conversation as to which road they were on, which road they wanted to be on, and how they could get there together! That’s one of the keys to knowing if you’re on the road to success.
Every organization and business has core values. Your team may never have articulated them, but rest assured you have them. Now those values may not necessarily be the kind of values that lead you down the road to success, but they are values none the less. Often organizations that have taken the time to identify core values focus on values they aspire to rather than values that are already inherent in the organization, lived out by individuals within the organization.
I worked with an organization where the unspoken core value related to conflict was, “We will never deal with it up front!” They’d never taken the time to articulate it that clearly but everyone knew it to be true. If you had a problem with someone, you talked about them not to them. What a shock when a new management executive stepped into the organization, began to expose the value and initiate dialogue as to what the core values should be if they were to experience success as a team. He had the audacity to suggest that they replace people on the team who proved to be unwilling to live out and live into the new organizational values. What a shock when one of the top performers was transitioned out because she was unwilling to live out the values in spite of repeated opportunities to do so.
What’s Your Passion?
Occasionally I encounter an organization where a passion oozes from every corner of their operation. It’s palpable, motivating, inspiring and most importantly, it’s what attracts and keeps good people in the organization. Have you ever stopped to ask the question, “What is the deeper passion that drives us as an organization?” That’s a really important question and can again help focus and ignite the latent energy that is present in your people. I am a passionate person and when I work with management and leadership teams, my passion oozes from me. I cannot help but be passionate - that’s who I am and I know that my passion ignites a spark in others. What’s the passion that drives you as a leader? How can you use your passion to drive others in your organization?
One of the limiting factors I encounter as I work with clients is that they have rarely identified the “who”. Who is it that they’re best suited to reach? Instead they’re trying to be all things to all people and not being particularly effective or successful with most of their client base. I drive a particular make of automobile. My automobile manufacturer has done an extensive study of their “who” and not long ago I received a link to their website where I discovered that I really did fit their “who” profile. They’ve done the work of identifying their core customer and have then scaled their business model to reach that individual. Defining your “who” means you might have to narrow your focus (and in the process “lose” some of your current customers) but it’s another road sign on the road to success.
Jim Collins, author of the best-selling book Good to Great talks about the importance of identifying your BHAG - Big Hairy Audacious Goal. Have you ever taken the time to dream about where you’d like your organization to end up if money, time, and human resources weren’t a factor? It’s both invigorating and terrifying all at the same time. It invigorates every member of your team as they begin to consider the possibilities. But it’s terrifying because once you identify that preferred destination, then everything else in your organization must in some way provide the impetus to move you toward that goal. If it doesn’t, it must be modified or eliminated. If it does move you toward that goal then you must be vigilant in seeking to improve on what’s already working so as to avoid complacency.
Road signs are important as we travel the highways of life, especially if we know our intended destination. The same applies in every organization. Successful organizations and management teams have a clear destination in mind and they’ve identified the road signs to success. More than that, they adhere to the road signs and as a result they’re much more likely to see their imagined future realized and experience success!