Ship at sea״I know that I want to invest more in retrospectives and in learning. But I never have the time. Reality is too important to let secondary things like fluffy meetings to manage our precious time".

Sounds familiar?

The important takes second place to the urgent.

Why is that? Why is the urgent always attacking us at the worst time, crumbling all our plans to dust?

In most cases I encounter, explaining the reason is dead simple and extremely hard to do. It boils down to: we know we're not on the right path, but we also don't know what the right path is.

 There are many practices to follow to get the important done.

And the most important decision you can ever make is to define the purpose. What does this organization exist for?

There are a number of reasons why we find it hard to define our purpose, and they are also important. But they are secondary to the single, most influential, decision you can ever do to your organization - define a primary purpose.

You can compare this to a ship sailing at sea, and the captain has not yet decided what is the ship's destination.

Imagine you are a sailor on this ship, and you ask your super: "where are we going to?" and the super tells you "oh, I don't rightly know. I was asking the same question myself".

What do you feel now, as a sailor? How motivated are you to complete your tasks? Not great, huh?

So here are practical tips to set your own ship's destination.

Doing it on your own

Take a blank piece of paper. And start writing: what will it be like when we get to our destination?

Consider the following questions:

  • How will I feel? How will my peers and subordinates feel?
  • How will our competition perceive us?
  • What will customer be saying about us?
  • What will our sales be like?
  • How long will it take us to get there?
  • In your answers be as specific as you can. For example:

When you write how will you feel, be specific about the emotions. Feelings such as uplifted, fulfilled or proud might be relevant.

When you answer about sales, put a concrete number. It can be $1m or $1bn or $100bn - whatever you number, make it slightly more than you can ever believe. 

If you think more questions are adequate, add them.

Timebox yourself. Make it more than 10 minutes, and less than one hour.

Challenge yourself, and create your own future.

Doing it as a team

It is a good practice to begin this activity on your own, in particular if you are the captain on your ship.

If you are captains of the ship, or if you have a leadership team, it might be a good practice to do this activity as a team.

One way of doing it is as follows:

Divide the team to two (how to divide the team is also something to consider, but not in this post).

For each team give the same instructions:

You are a reporter of a leading magazine, writing about our company, now that we've made it to greatness. What will you write about us?

Give the teams the same questions as above, including your own if you added them, to include in this article.

Timebox this part to 15 minutes.

At the end of the 15 minutes, ask each team to present or read their article. Each team should get 3-5 minutes for this.

During the presentation, members of the other team should record the gaps and similarities from their own article.

So this part can be timeboxed to 12-15 minutes.

Next ask the entire team to put post-its in two broad groups - similarities and gaps.

This part should be timeboxed to 2-5 minutes.

And then the last and most important part.

As a team come up with a single phrase that describes the organization that you want to to become.

Help the team make this sentence short and crisp. It should be phrased in present tense - that is prefer a "We are the..." over "To become the...". Encourage use of metaphors and analogies.

This last part should be timeboxed to ten minutes, making this a roughly one hour meeting.

You may now throw away the articles and the post-its. They are less important than the process and the resultant sentence.

Awkwardness

Yes, you will feel this as awkward and maybe artificial. If you are not used to this kind of leadership, it will be so.

So two final tips are on how to make it work better

Tip number one - repeat this process. It is OK to refine your purpose. As your results become reality, so will your goals become greater. It is also OK to have the same purpose - and such an exercise can help you revalidate it.

Tip number two - get help. Seriously, if you are not accustomed to such activities, get someone to facilitate this for you. You will probably only need it once or twice, and then grow the knowhow within your organization to facilitate such meetings. What more, you will learn to ask more concrete questions on what you need help next.

The one decision you need to make it to take ownership on your purpose. Because clearly, if you don't, no one will do it for you.

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