To Unlock Success, Get Clarity Around 7 Vital Questions
Many companies I work with are now preparing plans and budgets for next year.
I’ve led more than 250 strategic planning sessions so when working with leadership teams to develop their strategic plans, I emphasize that planning is more about trust-building than budget-building.
Leaders who don’t trust one another won’t dig into the meaty issues hindering success.
While dozens of questions are asked in the course of a planning session, these seven questions are essential.
You’ll notice the first question is a one-word question. The second question is a two-word question. And so on.
Too much of a gimmick? Perhaps. I’m hopeful the format and the simplicity of the questions will help you remember them. Because these seven questions must be asked and answered to achieve the type of clarity that can unlock the success you say you want.
7 Essential Questions
“First who,” writes Jim Collins in Good to Great, “then what.” Everything starts with people because people are the greatest predictor of future results. Who’s a good cultural fit but is in the wrong position? Who needs to go? Who are we missing? Identify weaknesses in your org chart.
You can’t be your best if you don’t have the right people around you.
2. What matters?
Either your core values really matter or they’re just cheap words on your website. Your core values are at the heart of your decisions. Do our values reflect our real behavior? Do they provide clear insight into how we win? Core values start a chain reaction:
If you don’t know what you stand for, you’ll fall for (or chase) anything.
3. What’s our vision?
Casting a vision, setting goals, making a plan and writing it all down brings clarity to dreams and increases the chance you’ll hit what you’re aiming for. Where are we going? Is our vision big enough to include everyone in our organization? Is it bold enough to excite everyone?
Numbers are fine, but your vision must give people something to cheer for.
4. Who is our customer?
“Our business is not to casually please everyone,” wrote management consultant Philip Kotler, “but to deeply please our target customers.” Defining your primary customer drives everything: the products or services you provide, your business model, programs and pricing. What does an ideal customer look like? Who is not a good fit for us?
Nothing happens in a business until somebody sells something so be clear who you’re selling to.
5. What does the customer value?
“If you listen closely enough,” said former Porsche CEO Peter Schutz, “your customers will explain your business to you.” When did we last ask our customers about their priorities? About our performance? About the barriers to doing business with us? About their next big decision?
This important question is obvious—yet it’s not asked of the customer as often as it should be.
6. Where aren’t we doing our best?
Most leaders gathered for a planning session will say their individual performance is not the problem. So the key word in the question above is “we.” An exercise I’ve used for years called “Deal the Cards” gets all of the problems out in the open so they can be addressed. If you’re interested in the details of this exercise, email me at [email protected].
You cannot get better if you don’t fix what’s not working.
7. I don’t know…what do you think?
Bill Marriott said these are the seven most important words in business. If you want your colleagues to grow, to challenge each other and themselves, and to own the plans they’re developing, ask this question. Then listen.
Great leaders solve problems; exceptional leaders ask questions.
Interested in discussing whether a strategic planning session could be helpful for your firm? Email me at [email protected] to schedule a free Zoom meeting or phone call.
To dive even deeper into the topic of accountability, I invite you to purchase a copy of my bestselling book, “Accountability: The Key to Driving a High-Performance Culture.”
Business schools teach case studies. Hollywood blockbusters are inspired by true events.
Exceptional leaders are students of history. Decision-making comes with the territory.