1.) Unbound dreaming
Unbound dreaming identifying where you company could be in a handful of years without resource or competitive limitations. Answer the question, “what would I want this company to be three to five years from now if I had all the resources I needed at my disposal?” Include hard to define but still emotionally powerful phrases like “best in class” and “market leader in . . .” Write up the unbound dream in no more than three or four pages which should include several images that convey the emotion embedded in the dream. While there are no limits (therefore, “unbound”) in creating the dream, the limited amount of room to convey the message will require a certain amount of prioritization.
Be careful in how fully this dream is shared. In most cases, companies will want to keep this dream within a few relevant executives and managers and to not share with the general employee base or even to the customers. While the dream is exciting, it is inherently unrealistic and that is ok. Realism comes in the next step.
2.) Pervasive understanding
Pervasive understanding is the process where a team of trusted managers and executives drill into the unbound dream and quantify what resources the dream will really need. Pervasive means that understanding the dream must be completed through every aspect of the company. Create pro-forma P&L and budgets. Answer questions like, “What percent of sales will have to come from each channel? From each product segment?” “What will are margins be?”
Look at the emotionally packed but largely meaningless phrases like “best in class,” and really understand what each phrase actually means. With the phrase “best in class,” how is “best” measured? According to who? If you were to bring whatever is best in class to a third party lab to compare to competitors, what criteria would you give that lab to determine “best.” Does the customer use those same criteria?
As the dream becomes understood, it will become obvious that parts of the dream simply are not obtainable. If that isn’t the case, the dreamers didn’t do their job in step one. They needed to have bigger dreams. In this step, start to prioritize pieces of the dream. Don’t necessarily dispose of impractical parts of the dream, but lower their priority. They may become practical in the future. It will become necessary to start working up timelines so that the company can understand what is possible.
At this point, all the math must work. The pro-forma P&L five years down the road must make sense and it must exceed the required profit.
3.) Tactical pathing
Now that there is a detailed pervasive understanding of the dream, start to work backwards through the calendar to establish what will be necessary in each year. For example, if the company is going to become the “best” (however that is defined) product in its category five years down the road but currently is a middle of the road product currently what steps and investments are required to improve the product so significantly.
Tactical pathing includes details like how bonuses will be calculated, which positions need to be added to the org chart, which need to be eliminated, which segments should marketing be focusing on, etc.
To be done well, tactical pathing requires input from a wide range of employees. Employees should be given opportunities to challenge the dream. This will create a more realistic path as well as help employees take ownership.
4.) Walk the path
Walking the path is simply starting to execute the tactical path. As with any path ever walked, unanticipated obstacles and turns will arise. Competitors won’t behave as predicted, technology may take yet another leap or your customer’s tastes or needs may change unpredictably. As with any path ever walked, when an obstacle or unplanned turn appear adjust your path but keep your dream firmly in mind. The company’s dream is more important than the path taken to reach it.