Workplaces are designed to keep people busy with activity, but often, that activity does not drive a meaningful missional agenda forward in a disciplined way. There are meetings without clear agendas, decisions that get made and forgotten, leaders who have their own priorities that are not necessarily connected to a larger overreaching goal, and employees who are busy with good things but not aligned and moving in the same direction.
This is especially true in the ministry or non-profit world where the disciplines related to profit are absent. It is easier to get away without discipline, alignment, and focus. Of course, that is not our desire: We desire to be mission-driven and deeply effective, so what is the key to seeing this happen?
Meaningful work, alignment, and focus always start at the organization's top. The senior team has the responsibility to set the organization’s agenda. This is not simply about mission or vision but about annual and quarterly priorities, which will help move the organization's agenda toward that mission and vision. Without this discipline of annual objectives and quarterly goals contributing to that annual objective, there is simply activity without focus.
Leaders drive meaningful agendas and progress by asking three questions and establishing three disciplines. This is both simple and profound.
Question One: What is our picture of our preferred future? Everyone has a mission or vision statement. A picture of the preferred future is a written document of one to three pages that clearly describes the end result of the organization’s work and the practices and culture of the organization itself. To move your organization toward a target, you must define the target. Once written, this picture of your preferred future should be revisited once a year to clarify and make any necessary changes.
The first discipline is writing your picture of the preferred future. Leaders who have not defined in specific terms what their organization or ministry is about do not have a target to hit. They are like Charlie Brown, who never used a target because that way, he could hit it every time. Amusing but not fruitful.
Question Two: Once we have our picture of the preferred future in writing, what are the specific things we are committed to accomplishing this year to best move us toward that preferred future? In the absence of asking that question, many things will happen in the course of the year, but it will not be focused in a laser way on moving toward your goal. Without a target, dozens of small “moves” will not substitute for three to five organization-wide moves toward a specific goal.
Thus, the second discipline is identifying the three to five key initiatives the organization must make in any given year to move toward the preferred future. This is hard strategic work that often does not occur precisely because it is hard and because, with this work, accountability is inherent in making these commitments. This is what separates great leadership from average leadership. It is the discipline of moving the organization toward its preferred future annually with accountability.
Question Three: What are the specific “wins” that every department or leader will accomplish in the next 90 days by quarter? Large wins are made up of smaller wins, and 90-day win cycles keep staff and departments focused on moving the agenda forward. They allow you to break down large goals into bite-size goals that build on one another and make the annual “wins” possible. In this way, every department or leader identifies what they will focus on in the next 90 days. Focus is everything!
So the third discipline is that of running 90-day “win cycles” where the “scorecard” is the 90-day plan. This takes discipline and a regular rhythm of work that is calendared and built into the fabric of the organization's annual, quarterly, and monthly work. While the first few quarters may be hard, the ongoing discipline becomes easier, and the wins make it all worthwhile.
Organizational leadership is always about asking the right questions and living with the right disciplines. These three will move your leadership and your organization’s results to the next level.