Asking the Right Questions then Discovering the Best Answers!
I was recently asked to provide 3-5 “Things You Should Know” on the topic of “Leadership: Vision, Mission, Values & Strategic Planning” for our industry’s trade magazine. Below is what I provided. Let me know if you have something to add.
Leadership and strategic thinking isn’t about having all the answers, it’s, at the core, asking the right questions and then leading a team or organization to discover the best answers. And these answers are critical because it’s around them that a leader builds unity, community, focus and ultimately success.
The following six groups of questions are the most foundational and strategic questions a leader can ask and then help their team or organization answer:
- Why do we exist? What purpose do we fulfill, what difference do we make in the world? If we ceased to exist, what hole would be left? The answer to these questions is typically expressed in a purpose or mission statement.
- What’s most important to us? What are we most deeply passionate about and willing to sacrifice and suffer for? The answer to these questions is stated as an organization’s core values.
- What do we believe to be true? What is it about the world we’re most sure of? What’s true even though we may not like it? The answer to these questions is typically written in a statement of faith or a confession.
- What do we want to become? When we look into the future who and what kind of team or organization do we want to be? What are the kinds of things we’d want others to say about us? Answering these questions will lead to creating a shared vision of your future.
- What do we want to accomplish? 5, 10, 20 years from now, when we look back, how will we know we’ve been successful? What will be the key indicator that we faithfully fulfilled our mission and vision? A Big Hairy Audacious God Goal (BHAGG) answers these questions.
- What makes us distinct? What are the defining characteristics that make us stand out from other similar organizations? How do those outside our organization or team describe the work we do or service we provide? When you answer these questions you’ve articulated your brand promise (in organizations with a Christian mission – it’s often called a philosophy of ministry).
So a leader’s first task is to ask these foundational questions then second, lead their teams to discovering the answers. When these first two tasks are accomplished the leader’s job isn’t finished. The final, unending task of the leader is to teach, remind, highlight, reinforce, and be the biggest communicator and cheerleader of these answers to every stakeholder of the organization. This is the primary task of the leader and one that needs to happen every day, all the time; it’s what makes a leader a leader, and one that makes organizations great.
Plan Your Work then Work Your Plan, Leading the SpringHill Way – Part 2
If successful leaders manage things and lead people and never confuse the two, then it’s absolutely critical that leaders effectively manage the resources entrusted to their stewardship. At the core of good management is planning. This is why at SpringHill we like to remind ourselves to “plan your work then work your plan”.
Plan Your Work:
So what does planning your work look like? It always starts at the highest level (answering the 6 Key Questions) then works down to the actual steps and tasks necessary to accomplish a goal, project or a dream. At SpringHill after we’ve affirmed the answers to the 6 Key Questions we build a 3 year plan (that’s updated annually). We followed the 3 year plan with a 1 year, seasonal (quarterly), monthly and weekly goals and plans which have ever-increasing detail.
For individual planning, whether it’s work or personal, it can and should follow the same logic of breaking down long-term goals into annual, seasonal, monthly, weekly and even daily tasks and goals. For work plans we encourage our staff to align their plans and goals with the plans and goals of their team and the organization.
Work Your Plan:
However we always need to remember that the only reason to plan is to accomplish a goal or dream. So it’s absolutely critical to break down goals and plans into actionable steps so we can answer the question “what’s important right now?” When we answer this question then we’re ready to work our plan so it becomes a reality.
I also like to remind to myself and our team that we should spend most of our time working our plan. Because, at the end of the day, we’re not interested in being good at just dreaming big (anyone can do that), but being good at making big dreams a reality.43.928283-85.286682
Losing Momentum and Why It Happens
As I mentioned in my last post, I found out at the end of last year that I have high cholesterol, so I’ve been working to lower it naturally before June (when I have my follow-up appointment with my Doctor). And my take away has been realizing just how important momentum is, not only in improving my health, but in organizational health and effectiveness.
Now momentum, whether it’s personal or organizational, doesn’t last forever. Momentum always slows down and eventually hits a plateau. Now plateaus can be good things, if we’ve planned for them and know how we’ll move off from them.
But the truth is plateau’s usually catches us by surprise. And by the time we accept that momentum is slipping away we’re usually too late to keep the old momentum going, putting us in real danger of sliding backwards. And the hard reality is we either going forward or going backwards. We never stay at the plateaus long because they’re just transition points leading to either positive or negative momentum. Plateaus are not livable places.
Unfortunately I’ve experienced this truth as I’ve tried in the past to get into better shape. For example, I may begin to run regularly and lose some weight but then my running will become inconsistent and I’ll start eating poorly then my health will plateau. This usually happens just before I slowly start gaining a few pounds (usually explaining them away), and then, before I know it, I’m back, health wise, to where I started (or worse).
Why does this happen?
First, I didn’t anticipate that someday my fitness momentum will would come to an end nor did I anticipate the possible causes for why it end.
Second, I never created a written plan that would address these causes so I could continue to improve, or at least maintain my current level of fitness.
Third was the fact that I was not quick to accept that my momentum was actually beginning to ebb away and so wasn’t prepared to go into quick and necessary action before negative momentum set in.
And unfortunately these are the same reasons organizational momentum slips away. The leader doesn’t anticipate, plan, and quickly accept that momentum is beginning to slow down. The consequence is the leader trades the easier work of early action for the hard work (usually done by a new leader) of reversing negative momentum.43.928283-85.286682
Being a Part of Something Bigger Than Me
Somewhere early in my career is when I decided I wanted to work for something (organization or cause) that’s bigger than I am. I wanted to be a part of something that’s making a difference in the lives of people, making a difference in the world, and ultimately, making a difference in God’s Kingdom. But what I discovered was that just being a part of something bigger than me isn’t enough, nor, as I’ve also discovered, is it enough for most people.
What most people want to know is “what do I need to do to contribution to our organization’s success – the fulfillment of its mission and vision?” This question is the final question every organization that desires to make an enduring difference in the world needs to answer, not just for its self, but for the people who work, volunteer, and support the organization. As a good friend said to me recently “I want to know what piece of the SpringHill puzzle God wants to me to be”.
Unfortunately most organizations, including many times SpringHill, don’t always provide clear answers to the people who, not only want to be a part of something bigger than then themselves, but also want to make a meaningful contribution. Yet helping to bring job and role clarity becomes essential for the organization’s ultimate success, because it’s people who make visions and BHAGG’s reality.
At SpringHill we help staff, volunteers and others answer “what do I need to do to contribution?” by clarifying the answers to these simple but critical follow-up questions:
- Where do I fit into the organization? Position, job title, team and reporting relationships
- What am I responsible for? Defines the scope of the position
- What do I do to meet my responsibilities? Goals and objectives (aligned with the answers to the other organizational questions)
- What are the personal qualities do I need to fit within the team culture and be successful? Defined leadership competencies
- How will I know I’m being successful? Evaluations and performance appraisals
Helping people understand how they can contribute to an organization’s success may be the last question to answer, but it’s also the most important one.
This is part 6 of 6 in a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.
Do You Know What You’re Shooting For?
“What get’s measured is what gets done.”
I live in northern Michigan where opening day of deer season is a holiday. Schools close and very little business transacts. Part of the deer hunting tradition is the annual “sighting in” of a hunter’s gun that usually happens the weekend before opening day. “Sighting in” is where hunters shoot at a target for the purpose of aligning their gun’s sights/scope. The marks shot on the target indicate how aligned the gun’s sights are and direct the hunter’s sight adjustments. Obviously “sighting in” is important to achieving the goal of shooting a trophy deer.
It’s this idea of targets, goals, and indicators that help SpringHill answer the question “How will we know we’re being successful?” Targets are what we shoot for in the long run (more than a year away) and goals are the immediate things (year or less) we’re trying to accomplish. Indicators, on the other hand, are those measurements that help us assess how we’re doing accomplishing our goals and targets. Targets and goals should align with each other and both should align with the future aspirations of an organization (its vision and BHAG).
Typically an organization has a number of targets, goals and indicators that centered on such key areas as customers, finances/stewardship, market size, people, and operations. Every organization is different so the targets, goals and indicators should be different. The key is finding the right ones that lead the organization forward and tell its people how they’re doing. Then the team’s responsibility is to faithfully and regularly measure, watch, and effectively respond to those numbers.
Targets, goals and indicators are essential for an organization’s ability to answer the question “are we being successful and heading in the right direction?” Without them, and the proper tracking of them, an organization is left to guessing at how they’re doing, which is never good when hunting for a trophy.
This is part 4 of a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.43.928283-85.286682
What Sandbox Are You Playing In?
Remember those days as a child when playing in a sandbox was glorious? The self-contained structure filled with sand allowed us to use our imaginations to create our own little worlds, fight great battles, and build towering castles all in one spot. A sandbox is a brilliantly simple play option for kids while helping parents provide fun boundaries for their kids.
This concept of a sandbox helps SpringHill answer the question “Where and who will we serve and through what products/ministries?” It’s the second of the Game Plan Questions every organization needs to answer if it wants to make an enduring difference in the world. An organizational Sandbox defines the self-imposed boundaries our organization will “play in” over a given period of time.
Typical Sandbox boundaries include defining the target market, including geographic reach, the primary customers, and the products and services an organization will provide. A good Sandbox also acknowledges these “boundaries” are not forever so it includes a time horizon (typically no less than 3 years).
Now the reason an organization benefits from such self-imposed boundaries is simple. Effective organizations typically experience more opportunities than it can successfully take on. The Sandbox becomes a useful tool to screen those opportunities and provide needed organizational discipline so it can stay focused on its best opportunities for success (and build the best castle in the world).
The tension we’ve experienced at SpringHill, and one I’m sure is common among mission driven organizations, is our desire to be open to God’s leading and discerning the opportunities He may be providing. We don’t want to be too calculated and not allow room for something we didn’t see. But we’ve also discovered the Sandbox’s isn’t an automatic “no”, it just provides the reason to stop, evaluate and pray whether an opportunity is really right for our organization.
So defining your Sandbox will not only help your organization make an enduring difference in the world, it will likely make your organization a fun place to play.
This is part 3 of a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.
The 20 Mile March
How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.
The first “Game Plan Question” an organization needs to answer is “What are the consistent steps we need to take to achieve our BHAGG and our Vision?” It’s a question SpringHill has wrestled with on and off for years. Common sense told us achieving a long-term goal requires breaking it down into manageable chunks. Yet we just couldn’t get our arms around how to do that.
Then we read Jim Collins‘ new book Great by Choice. There we found the perspective we needed to answer this Game Plan Question. It’s a concept Collins calls the “20 Mile March” based on the Antarctica explorer Roald Amundsen’s strategy to be the first person to reach the South Pole. Amundsen planned his entire trip on 20 mile marches. He and his team did everything in their power to march 20 miles a day, no more or no less, regardless of the weather. This breakdown of his “BHAG” – to be the first to the South Pole – into manageable chunks was a key factor in his team achieving their goal.
Collins defines a 20 Mile March in organizational terms by saying it’s “more than a philosophy. It’s about having concrete, clear, intelligent, and rigorously pursued performance mechanisms that keep you on track.” He also provides a number of compelling case studies worth reviewing.
For SpringHill we’re testing a 20 Mile March defined by annual growth in campers served that will move us towards fulfilling our BHAGG of serving 260,000 people a year by 2025. We’re simply calling it “the 13.5 March” representing the annual percentage increase in campers we serve each year. It’s a number we believe we can achieve year over year and it’s a number that provides us an annual target to strive for regardless of the conditions. It’s our attempt to eat this elephant one bit at a time.
This is part 2 of a series of posts about the questions every organization needs to answer to achieve their vision.
Questions Every Organization Needs to Answer to Achieve Their Vision
In the past I’ve written about what we at SpringHill call the “6 Key Questions.” They’re questions every organization needs to answer if it desires to make an enduring difference in the world.
These 6 questions (and how we answer them) are:
- What do we believe to be true? Statement of faith, beliefs about reality
- What’s important to us? Core Values
- Why do we exist? Mission
- What do we want to become? Vision
- What do we want to achieve? Big Hairy Audacious “God” Goal (BHAGG)
- What makes us distinct? Hedgehog
Yet if an organization answers these 6 questions but stops there, it could find itself falling short in making the answers a reality.
So there are 6 other questions we address that flow out of the answers to the 6 Key Questions. I call them “The Game Plan Questions’ because they translate the Key 6 Questions into an actionable plan. The 6 Key Questions are strategic, philosophical and long-term in nature while the Game Plan Questions drive the organization towards tactics, goals, actions that ultimately make the answers to the 6 Key Questions reality.
The Game Plan Questions (and how we answer them) are:
- What are the consistent steps we’ll need to take to achieve our BHAGG and Vision? 20 Mile March
- Where and who will we serve and through what products/ministries? Sandbox
- How will we know we’re being successful? Targets and Goals
- What do we have to do to be successful? Big Moves
- What’s important right now? Annual Moves
- What do I need to do to contribute to our team’s success? Individual plans and goals
Over the next couple of weeks I will provide a deeper look at each of these Game Plan Questions and how an organization can answer them to assure the necessary clarity, alignment and buy-in by its staff and board which is necessary if it’s to have the enduring impact in the world it desires.43.928283-85.286682
The Tension in Strategic Planning
This month we’ve begun our annual work of updating the SpringHill strategic plan, or as we refer to it, our ministry plan. The process includes most of our staff and board at some level and culminates in our leadership team’s offsite annual planning meeting where we bring all the input and pieces together and update our plan.
And every year, during our annual planning offsite, we find ourselves in this tension between detailed calculated planning verses faith driven, visionary planning. This tension is particularly strong in Christian organizations where we “want to leave room for God” in our plans because we know He can do more than “we could ever ask for or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).
But too often “leaving room for God” is an excuse for not doing the hard work of planning. We need to accept that planning clearly is a godly pursuit, the Scriptures are full of admonishment to “count the cost” and that “the noble man devises noble plans; and by noble deeds he stands” (Isaiah 32:8).
On the other hand, planning can quickly replace sensitivity to God’s leading and having the faith that can “move mountains”. This most often happens when we’ve create well thought out plans because we move our faith to our plans and away from the God who makes the plans a reality.
So how have we tried to reconcile this tension between planning and faith?
We’ve accept that we need both – it’s not an “either/or” proposition but a “both/and” (like many things of faith). We’re committed to prayerfully creating the very best plans we can, using the very best tools, knowledge, and insight available to us. Yet, at the same time, we prayerfully set long-term goals and vision that we can’t always calculate our way too, knowing we have to move forward in faith, trusting God will provide what we need when we need it.43.928283-85.286682
The Lesson in Eclipsing 19,000 Summer Campers
“By the summer of 2019, 19,000 kids will attend one of six summer camps.” It was 1997 and the SpringHill board and leadership had just updated and approved the ministry’s strategic plan using Jim Collins and Jerry Porras’ book Built to Last as a guide.
Collins and Porras’ research revealed that enduring organizations had a “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” (BHAG). The “19 by 19” goal, as it was soon to be called, was SpringHill’s BHAGG (we added the first G – God – to our definition).
Now understand, in 1997 SpringHill’s board and leaders were people of talent and faith who wanted to do something significant for kids and Christ’s Kingdom. And the “19 by 19” goal reflected both this desire and the best information available to them at the time.
Yet today as I write, here in the summer of 2012, we just eclipsed this “19 by 19” goal. Please know I’m not sharing this with you so you can be impressed or congratulate us for handily beating our goal, but instead to demonstrate a point about goal setting that Collins and Porras doesn’t address.
In goal setting we tend to be overly optimistic about short-term goals and overly pessimistic about long-term goals. The main reason for this phenomenon is that we tend to think of the future only in the context of what we know in the present. For example, our staff and board knew and understood overnight camping but could not possibly have foreseen the dramatic demographic changes that would lead us to begin our Day Camp ministry nearly 10 years later (this ministry has played a significant role in our beating the 19 by 19 goal seven years early).
The lesson we learned, and then implemented in restating our BHAGG back in 2003 was that a visionary goal isn’t based on a “calculation”. It’s bigger than that, so big that we’d have no any idea how it would be achieved. The goal needed to be big enough “to leave room for God”, as one board member put it. Today our BHAGG is that, by 2025, we’ll have 260,000 people a year experience SpringHill.
Now, to be completely honest, only time will tell if we got this long-term goal setting thing right and whether the next generation of SpringHill leaders will judge us as fool hearted souls or Saturday morning sand baggers.43.928283-85.286682