Friday, January 31, 2014

Defining North

One of the highest honors ever bestowed on me is being asked to be on an advisory board or invited to be on another organizations “Board of Advisors”. Think about it, someone thinks so highly of you that they are asking you for direct advice and where they should take their organization and how to get there. Some might see these as fluff spots. I personally take them very selectively and very seriously. I make sure I can add value, come prepared and give my all from judgment, inspiration and innovation… it’s a big deal! :D

This year I took on the challenge of being on a new advisory board that was created. The organization was in one of my sweet spots and a few people I already trusted, and so I geared up for a great meeting. The meeting was well organized with an agenda and over lunch in a nice meeting room. We did the traditional stuff of going around and introducing ourselves and some pieces of context… awesome, what a great group, I’m honored to be here I thought to myself.

The host then handed out a business and strategy plan… extremely detailed (14 pages). This thing had everything in it. Current products, customers, financials, competitors, you name it, it was in there… I was very impressed. As a team, we walked through it and talked about each heading, what it was and why it was included. After going through the plan the host turned the meeting back over to the board and asked for feedback. In good host format he added the disclaimer that nothing was off the table and that any comments were welcome, complimentary or brutally constructive. …I was happy for the disclaimer. :D

The room stayed quiet for a while …to be honest there was a lot of data there to consume. I somewhat sheepishly raised my hand and with a small smile asked if they really wanted my feedback… they know me well and said, “Bring it John, what do you got?”.  I said, “You guys should stop everything you are doing and start writing some software”. “You see I’m a simple hammer and if you give me a blank sheet I’m going to draw a nail every time. “ While putting together all the documentation of what is “now” they missed two critical pieces, a Vision and Mission statement. With zero understanding of “where they wanted to go” and  “how they wanted to get there”, I turned to what I know best, which is software.

We all had a little laugh and the host commented that he wasn’t expecting homework from the first meeting, but would work on it for the next meeting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen these documents get overlooked or are allowed to become stale at an organization. Without a vision statement, it’s like navigating without a compass. You know you are making progress, you’re just not sure it's in the right direction of north. Without a mission statement, you are missing any consistency in how to move forward day to day. This would be like preparing for a marathon without a schedule, you could do it, but if it’s your first one, there is a pretty good chance you won’t finish. 

When you multiply that same level of micro confusion across all your team members and maybe even across your partners and clients, it has a major negative effect. Creating these documents isn’t easy and takes leadership, deep authenticity and an iterative approach. See the chart below to better understand the difference between vision and mission.


Once you have these statements, well-understood, documented and publicized people can start living them… then as an organization everything changes. Things can start moving in synchronization and progress made in one day can be carried over to the next. Its easy, very easy to get caught up in the day to day things and not have time to create or review these, but without them your organization is really at a major disadvantage.

So I’ll ask you, will you continue to just make progress in any direction or will you create a message and documents to make sure you and your team are heading north? :D