(615) 656-0465 mark@markskenny.com

Recently, I received an email from my alma mater, that reminded me of what is missing with many of the clients I serve. Here is an excerpt:

Now that we are well into the fall semester, I invite you to join us in orchestrating the university’s future by participating in a brief survey in support of our strategic plan. We want to hear your voice as we discern the university’s next steps.

We have recently launched a comprehensive planning process in which you can play an important role. By the end of this academic year, we will publish our 2024-29 Strategic Plan, a document that will ensure all departments are well-equipped to navigate the rapidly changing cultural and higher education landscapes as we hold fast to the original mission.

I have been noodling on this email for a few days because many of the clients I work with are experiencing a feeling of ambiguity, underlying frustration, unnecessary turbulence, and a feeling that the team is drifting apart instead of pulling in the same direction, DESPITE the existence of a good strategic plan. They feel like something is missing but they are not quite sure what it is.

It might be the plate.

Strategic plans and goals and objectives are good but when you start with, or all you have is, a strategic plan, you’re missing the plate.

Let me explain.

Imagine you are serving a meal. Think of all your strategic objectives, goals, and priorities for the next year, two years, three years as the entrees. I am originally from Wisconsin, so I envision some meat, some potatoes, and definitely some cheese. Now, imagine serving those entrees without a plate. They are just entrees. You need a plate for them to be fully enjoyed, useful, and to complement each other.

Your strategic priorities, goals, objectives, and plans are the entrees. But they need a plate on which to sit. The plate is the foundation that ties everything and everyone together. It is the strategic foundation on which every decision is made.

How do we create the plate? It’s actually quite simple. Not easy, but simple. The leadership team must create the answers to six clarity questions (these are from Patrick Lencioni’s organizational health model):

  1. Why do we exist? (our purpose)
  2. How do we behave? (our core values on which we will not compromise)
  3. What do we do? (what business are we actually in)
  4. How will we succeed? (our three strategic anchors)
  5. What is most important right now? (because if everything is important, nothing is important)
  6. Who will do what, when?

That’s it. Alignment is simply everyone having the same answers to the same questions. When every single person on the leadership team and eventually every person in the organization has the exact same answers to the same questions, everything changes.

We know how our team and organization are going to succeed. We can create specific goals and objectives that help us create excellence at what we’ve decided is important for our success.

When the leadership team has the same answers to these questions, it creates a level of peace and clarity that did not exist before. Now, every decision is made through the lens of these answers. Our strategic objectives are in service of becoming excellent at the answers to these questions. We have a foundation on which to base everything.

The process of creating these answers is also simple, but not necessarily easy:

  • A strategic off-site for the leadership team to debate and work through the questions. There is just no substitute for getting away from the cauldron of everyday work. (if you want help defining the agenda for your off-site, reply back and I’ll share some resources with you).
  • Spending 30-60 days to test the answers by making decisions and asking for feedback from others in the organization (what’s right, what’s wrong, what’s missing).
  • Putting a stake in the ground and declaring these are the answers.

I love that my alma mater is doing the hard work of deciding what the plan is going forward. If I were advising them, I would recommend first taking the time to decide on the answers to the six questions. What makes this university uniquely this university, and not the university across town or across the state? How will this university be successful? Then, we can create the objectives and plans that will help us live out, with excellence, that vision, starting with the short-term.

I advise you to do the same. It could just be what your team is missing.