1 Simple Question That Improves Planning Outcomes
Whether you are hiring someone to help facilitate planning or guiding the process yourself, it’s important to clearly define your goals. In my experience, vague expectations lead to poor results. To make sure my prospective clients or employers have well defined expectations, I always ask my favorite strategy question:
“If I am extremely successful on this project (or in this job), how will this organization be different three years from now?”
Here are the most frequent types of responses:
Vague Response: “That’s a good question.”
This isn’t a bad beginning, but it fails miserably when it isn’t followed with an actual answer. If an organization doesn’t have a clear picture of what they want to achieve, they may simply be hoping something happens. This response tells me the organization isn’t ready to develop a plan.
Incomplete Response: “We want to increase revenues.”
Most organizations equate growth to success. However, sometimes growth costs more to produce than it generates in revenues. In order to understand whether your expectations are well-reasoned and realistic, I need more information. Specifically, I need to know how much growth you expect and either your expense budget or the impact you expect growth to have on your bottom line.
Complete Response: “We want to increase the population we serve by 10% within the next 3 years. In order to do that, we need to generate $150,000 in additional net income each year. We want your help figuring out how to make that happen.”
This response is the most complete. It tells me the organization is very clear on what it wants to accomplish and why, and it understands the income and expense balance. We may still negotiate on feasibility, but expectations are clear.
What happens if you don’t have a measurable goal?
Sometimes the goal is to develop goals. In that case, your complete response would reflect that need. For example, one non-profit told me they felt they were chasing shiny objects rather than making deliberate progress toward well-researched goals. They wanted me to help them refine their vision, define mid-range goals, and develop strategies to get there. This, too, is a complete response.
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