Saturday, July 11, 2015

Which Comes First – Goals or Strategy

Strategy without vision is “blindness,” strategy without goals is “emptiness,” execution without strategy is "busyness."

If vision is the destination your organization needs to travel to, the strategy is the compass to navigate through the journey, and the goals are like the mountains you should climb over or the rivers you have to get across through. So in order to manage the journey smoothly, which comes first - goals or strategy?
Strategy first; goals second generally. So based on the metaphor above, the answer is obvious. It has generally been a vision or purpose for existence first, and then strategy or strategic plan to set the goals next to achieve it. The goal is "the mountain the company wishes to climb," in order to reach the VISION - "where you want to go," “the trophy you want to win.” The strategies are about "how you to climb the mountain" or "how they will win the games necessary to win the trophy," or in journey terms, the "road you will travel." The all-important link no matter what terminology you use to relate to your associates is the tactics with specific action plans, due dates, and responsibilities for every team member to support the goal and the strategies to achieve the goal. So the winners focus on the clipboard (where the strategy is written) and then the score (the goal) is a natural byproduct. If the strategy is right, the goals and performance will come on its own. But if you only look at the scoreboard, nobody will know what to do to get there.

Sometimes, innovation requires a goal to get started, solving an emergent problem. Most businesses start with a vision and establish a set of strategies to achieve it, but the ever-changing marketplace has a way of impacting your original thinking. As a result, the best-managed companies, and those that achieve long-term success, nearly always evolve their vision/mission/strategy/goals with the changing times and market conditions. Plus, competitive response impacts this equation terrifically, and often in unexpected ways. The only way to make this work over the long haul is to continuously monitor the pulse of the marketplace and trim your sails accordingly. No vision or business strategy lasts forever, even if it's not broken, be open to change. This mindset often leads to even greater results. Sometimes, strategy before goal seems reactive. Innovation requires a goal to get started, solving an emergent problem. Innovating to create something new or boldly solve something big requires that proactively responds to the ongoing changes, and sometimes means the goal first statement. Multiple strategies can then be weighed.

It partly comes down to a left-brain/right-brain issue. If you are analytical and data-driven, then, of course, you do the strategy that then helps define the eventual goal. On the other hand, global thinkers set the goal first, then decide how best to reach it. Neither of these approaches is static, so they apply in any marketplace, as Covey said: “Begin with the end in mind.” It is also true once you embark on a journey of goal and strategy, it generally turns into a circular path versus linear way, in the sense that execution of strategies invariably points to new goals that require strategies to be updated and so on. Last but not least, involve every employee to have a clear business vision, and to participate in the development and execution of the goals strategies and tactics. Publishing the score, recognize and celebrate success, build lessons learned and applied culture (celebrate the learning and applied to learn from failure), and make course corrections along the way as needed.

So generally speaking, strategy without vision is “busyness,” strategy without goals is “emptiness.” Organizations need to have a sound strategy to laser focus on the destination but be agile to adapt to the emergent change circumstances, or be flexible for enabling innovation via setting alternative paths to achieve the goals, or ultimately realize the vision.


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