Years ago I observed a high performing, values aligned team engage in strategic planning, in the moment, right before my eyes.
This was in my YMCA executive days. I took a group of Los Angeles-area teenagers along with adult staff on a weeklong river rafting trip in Northern California.
None of the group members were experienced rafters. The rafting company staff spent a good three hours with us, teaching us paddling skills and teaming skills. That prepared us for our first day on relatively calm rapids – Class I and II.
As the week progressed, our skills grew and our experience helped us work better as a raft team.
Before taking us out on heavier rapids – Class III and III+ – the guides would pull us out of the water on a beach. Together, they’d climb up a trail overlooking the rapids and scout out the safest passage.
These were dam-controlled rivers, so the degree of difficulty could change in an hour’s time. The classification of the rapids could vary widely. Scouting three hours in advance might lead a guide to believe a particular route was safe – when it was not.
They watched the river flow, noting the safest passage. They then discussed and agreed on that passage. They mapped out which rafts would go first, second, third, etc. Once the strategy was discussed and agreed upon, the guides trekked back to the beach. They explained what they’d learned and outlined the passage we’d take.
We jumped in our rafts and “worked the plan.” We listened to our river experts and rafted like pros, simply because we aligned to the plan that got us safely to the end of each run.
Our guides didn’t scout Class II routes. Those had very clear channels for our rafts. Class III and III+ rapids were scouted every time.
Just as with the rafting company guides, every leader and team member is responsible for strategic clarity. Each team – leader/guide and members/paddlers – must understand the best passage to ensure safety and success.
Everyone needs to understand the strategic plan of his or her team. They must also know how that plan drives their functional contributions, their personal contributions to your strategic plan and goals.
Every team member should be able to describe how their daily project, goals, and tasks contribute to the accomplishment of team or company strategies.
Specific, measurable targets help every player understand what performance is expected at what quality standard by when (what day or what time). Defined targets also help leaders praise aligned action and redirect misaligned actions promptly.
Clarity of strategy and goals helps leaders and team members align plans, decisions, and actions that sustain the organization’s performance over time.
The only way to ensure everyone understands and can verbalize your strategic plan and goals is to communicate them effectively and reinforce them regularly.
Every project team should be able to explain how their project contributes to one of the company’s strategic imperatives.
Your performance planning process should link every performance expectation (be they a project, goal, or task) to a specific strategic imperative.
If it is difficult to describe how a project or goal does contribute to any of your strategic thrusts, it might be time to consider setting that project or goal aside.
The discipline required to align projects and goals to your strategic plan means that you’ll periodically find that some projects or goals are misaligned. They simply fall outside your defined “sweet spot,” and have to be turned down.