Sometimes less is more.
Several years ago I sat in on a meeting of 300 employees in a troubled company. The organization had brought in a German manager to lead the effort to save the business. Now it was time for the anxious employees to hear from their new leader.
Before the meeting began and in the first few minutes the room was electric with excitement. Then it was time for the new GM to speak. It appeared that in unison the employees leaned forward in their seats. He began by saying he had enjoyed meeting many people in recent days and was excited about the challenges ahead. So far so good, I thought. Then the meeting took a bad turn. He grabbed an overhead slide (this was in the 1990s) and started to put it on the projector. As he did so, these were his spoken words: “Based on my conversations and analysis of the situation here, I believe we have 17 critical issues that must be addressed for us to survive.”
The GM had sucked the energy out of the room with one slide and one sentence. Ultimately, this entity did not survive the high-tech wreck. Had I been given a chance to coach him I would have suggested he change the main message and opening slide to something like this: “Based on my knowledge of our situation, I believe we have 3 critical issues that must be addressed immediately for us to survive.” The supportive slide would have included just three short words or phrases. He would have kept the employees engaged as they received a clear and digestible message. .
Lessons for strategic planning
I have taken the lessons learned in that long-ago employee meeting as a strategic-planning facilitator. Too often boards of directors or staff leaders try to include too many things into the list of goals. And in the process it can lead to people spacing out the plan.
The consulting firm Franklin Covey (FC) refers to “The Law of Diminishing Returns” in relation to goal setting. FC’s findings show that, indeed, “less (goals) is more (action).”
If an organization, board or department sets 2-3 major goals, 2-3 goals will likely be accomplished. If 4-10 goals are set, 1-2 will likely be accomplished. If 11-20 goals are set, probably none will be met.
As I tell groups, a billion things will happen in that organization in the coming year. A meaningful strategic plan recognizes that fact and conveys the 2-3 key issues/activities that strategically deserve special attention and action in the coming months or years.
I believe that “clarity brings power.” The clarity of a concise list of a few special goals gives people the focus and motivation to get the important work done.
In my book, 3 beats 17 every time when it comes to setting major goals.