In working with a client on aligning their current strategic plan so that it could be effectively delivered (as you know most strategies fail due to poor execution), I discovered a considerable amount of confusion and lack of clarity around their vision and mission. One of the reasons that this client, and many other companies, struggle with “vision” and “mission” is that these two words tend to be poorly defined and more often than not filled with consultant speak.
In the mid 1980’s after the publication of In Search of Excellence, an army of consultants burst on the scene to help “rudderless” organizations build mission and vision statements, which seemed to then require the need for values and value statements to guide the culture into alignment with the new vision. (Whew! Even I get tired of management speak.). Even Enron had noble values and lofty mission statements, which of course no one paid any attention to, as is the case in most organizations.
What is needed is a more practical and useful definition of just what a vision and mission entails. So in working with the senior executive team at one client we decided to get specific and focus on some simple definitions.
Instead of Vision and Mission, we decided to use Strategic Intent and Strategic Imperative as a way to communicate where the company was headed and what was important.
Strategic Intent refers simply to “what we want for this company” and usually has a limited time frame, say 3 years. Strategic Imperative, on the other hand, is that one critical activity that, if focused on, will insure the attainment of the strategic intent.
For example. During the turnaround of Continental Airlines in the mid-1990’s, the Strategic Intent was to “Run a profitable airline we can all be proud of”. Pretty simple and straight forward, yet powerful when understood and internalized by all employees. So, what was that one critical ingredient, the Strategic Imperative, that would ensure the delivery of their strategic intent? Most people think it is access to money since after all this was a turnaround situation where the company was at that time $2.5B in default.
But in 1994 Continental was approaching its third bankruptcy in ten years. Which means they had raised money twice before to get themselves out of the hole, only to wind up back there again. So why should raising more money this time be any different?
Gordon Bethune and Greg Brenneman, the architects and leaders of the successful turnaround at Continental realized that their strategic imperative was not money (although that was vital) but the employees. Over the years of successive cost cutting and command-control management styles, the employees became increasingly negative about the company they worked for. And their negative attitudes about the company and management led to poor and often caustic interactions with customers. This downward spiral of negative behavior got so bad that many employees ripped the Continental badges off their uniforms so as not to be identified by angry customers.
Continental’s strategic imperative was to rebuild employee trust in management and create a positive corporate culture. Without this element in place, none of the other business and financial restructuring would last.
Another example is Apple, whose strategic imperative is Cool! Yes they are a consumer technology company and have sophisticated software and chips in their products, as do many other consumer technology companies. But if Apple ever abandoned designing products that were Cool, their massive brand equity would quickly erode.
Cool sells. The largest sales per square foot retailer in the US is Apple. It’s sales per square foot are nearly twice that of the company in second place, Tiffany & Co, the upscale jewelry chain. And demand for cool apple products is so great many of its stores are open 24/7. I know lots of retailers who would kill for this type of customer demand.
Figure out what your Strategic Imperative is and it will help propel you towards your Strategic Intent.
Tight Lines . . .
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