An Exercise in Clarity

There is an exercise I use to gauge to an organization’s clarity of purpose, and how well the executive team is aligned around this purpose when I facilitate strategy-planning meetings.

I hand each executive a 3×5 card and ask him or her to write down three things.

  1. If the organization were measured by a single metric, what would it be?
  2. What is the greatest obstacle facing the organization today.
  3. Tell me something about you that would surprise your team members.

I give them 10 minutes to write down their answers. Candidly the third one should be the hardest for an executive team. An inability to come up with answers (and it has happened) is not a good sign.

We start with the answers to the third question as an icebreaker.

Then we go back to the first question. This question is simply a way of asking, what do you do? And it can be surprising how different the responses can be. Sales is not correct. Neither is customer service or product quality. The answer is one’s raison d’etre, the purpose for your existence, not a method or differentiator or marketing plan. What does McDonald’s do? Sell hamburgers.

The tighter the agreement on this question, including use of the same words, the more aligned, and likely more effective the team. Word smithing and rationalization of the responses are not healthy.

Now we turn to the second question. There are always a span of answers here. This is a good way to get everyone’s fears on the table – and set a kickoff point for setting priorities, establishing goals, and framing budgets. By the way, another word for “priorities” is “choices.” When we set priorities we choose what to do, and what not to do.

There you have it. Something simple, but a quick way to get things on the table and determine where to start the discussion.

Got questions?  Let’s talk.

“Walk on road, hm? Walk left side, safe. Walk right side, safe. Walk middle, sooner or later [makes squish gesture]
get squish just like grape. Here, karate, same thing. Either you karate do “yes” or karate do “no.” You karate do “guess so,”
[makes squish gesture] just like grape. Understand?”

– Kesuke Miyagi


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