January 26

Planning from a 50,000-Foot Perspective by Richard H. Tyson

Business, Competency, Customer, Engagement, Financial, Operations, Vision


In recent blogs, I have referenced my PACER Action Model: Plan, Act, Control, Evaluate, Revise/Reward. I have found that this simple acronym, when followed diligently and consistently, is an exceptional leadership tool that provides a path to successful execution.

The leader who employs the PACER Model must recognize that each element of the process has its own unique characteristics and considerations.

In managing the first element, Plan, it is important to know that organizational planning should involve strategic, long-term perspectives, as well as short-term, day-to-day plans. In this regard, I remind my CEO clients that they have the challenge of leading their companies from both the 50,000-foot and ground-level perspectives; however, for today I’m focusing on the big picture.

Planning at this level demands a focus on the shared vision that drives the business. Too often, that vision is not shared by the executives and employees of the company. This inevitably robs an organization of a common focus, of clarity regarding why the business exists.

Best-selling author Simon Sinek correctly admonishes us to “start with why.” He states, “People don’t buy what you do; they buy why you do it.” This applies to both customers who open their wallets to you and your team who must buy into the why. Leaders who desire to inspire enthusiasm, energy, and highly engaged execution recognize the need to create shared vision.

The CEO of one of my clients recognized the importance of creating shared vision in his apartment business that rents primarily to college students. In meeting with his key executives, he asked first, “What business are we in?” The answer was predictable: “We are in the apartment rental business.”

In his critical role of facilitator, he then asked, “Why are we in that business?” While the answers were first about making money, eventually the team agreed that they were in business to create a great school year for their residents.

This compelling “why” led to an energetic discussion about what to do and how to do it, both in this initial discussion as well as in virtually every executive and employee meeting thereafter.

Jim Collins, in his best-selling book Good to Great, talks about the “hedgehog” concept. This is his term for the three key elements of a strong shared vision: (1) it constitutes the passion of the team, (2) it is something they can be the best in the world at, and (3) it has a strong economic engine.

The economic engine is where planning at the 50,000-foot level should proceed once the team has worked together in creating the company vision. The long-term plan must clearly demonstrate that shared expectations include financial success, which includes identifying the specific reasons customers will willingly pay for products or services. Those reasons must be clearly understood; they constitute what the company delivers, your unique value proposition, and your promise to those who buy from you.

Next, facilitated discussion should set forth the key operational activities that deliver desired customer outcomes. The question here is what specific operations deliver what the customer wants? Further, what constitutes the operating effectiveness and efficiency that will deliver those customer outcomes? Beyond that, discussion should include how the organization trains and develops its people to assure that they operate effectively and efficiently.

Finally, the executive team should define key company functions, assess how well they are staffed, and where recruitment will be required in the future. The team should agree on the recruitment process that is most likely to deliver the best candidates to create operating, customer, and financial outcomes.

If you have yet to do so, I recommend thoroughly addressing the 50,000-foot issues with your executive team as soon as possible. Having done so, reviews of these high-level plans should be revisited no less often than annually.

It is essential to remember that this focus on overarching strategic plans is the first step in planning—and planning is the initial step in the PACER Action Model. While it is tempting to move quickly into action, it is important to recognize that execution will be far more effective if day-to-day planning is also addressed. More on this in my next blog.

Richard Tyson is the founder, principal owner and president of CEObuilder, which provides forums for consulting and coaching to executives in small businesses.

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Rich Tyson

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