Why Focusing on 5 Strategic Priorities Will Move You Closer to Your Utopia
Those who set annual goals, write them down and revisit them throughout the year are more likely to reach these goals. This may not be a universal truth but for most of us, this annual habit or ritual has a positive effect on performance throughout the year towards what you set out to accomplish.
When we do our annual strategic planning sessions with our Business Design clients, we often hear, “it feels like there are dozens of things that I could do in the coming year to move my business forward?” And while that is often true, there are always four or five things you MUST do to move your business towards your Utopia.
These “must do’s” become your strategic priorities for the year. So how do we boil it all down to the critical ones?
Always Start With Utopia
Too often, businesses start their annual goal setting by looking at what they did the previous year and setting the bar higher. They might say “our goal is to increase revenue by 10% year over year” or “our goal is to increase our gross margin by 5%”. Please don’t do this.
Setting goals and prioritizing without your Utopia in mind can feel like a crushing burden of options without focus.
Utopia is where you love your business, love your life and make good money. The key to these three pillars is that they are very personal. Be honest and look deep into what you want your business to provide for you and your family. If you are in a partnership, each partner should explore this by him or herself then discuss openly. This step is very important to having alignment within your business. Misalignment amongst partners is toxic.
Steps to Your Strategic Priorities:
Step 1. See above and set your Utopia. Ask yourself: What is the best version of this business? How do I want my business to impact my lifestyle? What truely motivates me?
Step 2. From – To: We like to use an exercise that helps visualize the changes or progress you’d like to see in your business. Think of it as an aspirational “current state” to “future state” exercise. We call this our “From-To” exercise. Using sticky notes or cue cards and with one year as your timeline, write down as many From-To statements that come to mind, don’t prioritize or overthink, let these statements flow for 15-20 minutes; aim for a minimum of 10 statements. Examples: “From: inefficient operations – To: Tight operations and workflow” or “From: pitching for any and all projects – To: targeted projects that showcase our expertise”.
Step 3. Organize: The exercise above should be done alone even if you are in a partnership; but the organizing and ranking is something that works well when done with your partner(s). Use a large table or window (if you used the sticky notes) and take turns reading out your statements; as statements are revealed, start grouping similar concepts. When all the statements have been revealed; there will be a number of groups or buckets on your table or wall that share a similar theme. Note: You may have a few outliers that don’t fit well into a theme group. Generally, we’ll remove these outliers, unless the partners feel it was a bolt of brilliance and can stand on its own.
Step 4. Name: Review these statement groups as a team, clarify any cryptic language or ideas then give each group a name or statement. For example, you may have a group that has a number of statements relating to operations/workflow/internal performance etc; so you might name this group “Improve internal operations”.
Step 5. Rank: Each partner is given three tokens of different colour and value. Example Red = 3 points, Blue = 2 points and Green = 1 point. With your Utopia in mind, each partner allocates his/her 3 tokens to the statements that they feel should be priority over the coming year. Red token goes to their 1st priority, Green to their 3rd. Once all allocated, this is a good opportunity to discuss rationale for each other’s ranking. This discussion often yields debate, challenge, reflection and tests alignment. All powerful ingredients. Finally, tally the points awarded to each category and the top strategic priorities will emerge.
Step 6. Dashboard: Add these strategic priorities to your dashboard along with your Utopia. By being on your dashboard, you are constantly reminded of your priorities throughout the year and why you are doing it (your Utopia). This helps prioritize decision making as opportunities and challenges are presented throughout the year and you’ll start to act both consciously and perhaps subconsciously in favor of your priorities and by design, move closer to your Utopia.
I’ll reiterate this because we feel this is so important to kicking off your coming year with the right focus. That is; there are hundreds of things you could do next year but there are 4-5 things you must do to move your business towards the best version of itself. Picking goals and prioritizing simply based on growth for growth’s sake isn’t the right approach. Focus on priorities will move you toward your goals at an increased rate.
The above steps are how we approach goal setting and establishing the top 4-5 priorities for the coming year. Find an approach that works for you and your partner(s) but we encourage you to start with your Utopia in mind and set goals and priorities accordingly that move you towards the business and life that you dream of.