“So, if I’m facilitating an executive team in strategic planning, how do I get them to define broad goals? All too often the executives I work with focus their plans too much on the day-to-day and their goals seem very tactical. But I’ve seen a few strategic plans you facilitated and the goals are always very broad and expansive. What’s your secret?”

In our course, The Secrets to Facilitating Strategy, we provide facilitators “the secrets” we’ve learned for preparing, developing, implementing, and monitoring a comprehensive strategic planning process which we call The Drivers Model. One of the key secrets is using a visioning exercise to help a group discover its broad goals.

Definitions

In the Drivers Model, we make the following distinction between goals and objectives.

GoalsGoals are broad, long-term aims that define accomplishment of the mission.
ObjectivesSpecific, quantifiable, realistic targets that measure the accomplishment of a goal over a specified period.

Let’s take a look at a simple example of the relationship between goals and objectives from our work with a non-profit membership association.

Membership GoalMembership Objectives (3-year targets)
Maximize membership growth, retention and involvement.Increase membership from 500 to 650 Increase average meeting attendance to 250 Achieve 10% committee involvement

Of course you might use different terminology. What we call goals versus objectives, you might reverse the terms and call them objectives versus goals, or call them key performance areas versus key performance indicators, or strategic intent versus strategic outcomes. For the sake of this article, let’s assume we are trying to get to the thing considered “broad, long-term outcomes,” and let’s call them goals for now.

Sample Visioning Exercise

To help participants determine their goals, we use a visualization exercise. The visualization exercise guides participants through a scenario ten or more years into the future. So, the key is to help the participants visualize the various areas of success (e.g., customers, products, image, etc.) without specifically citing what the success was. Note how pauses are used in the example below.

  • Now that we have looked at where we are currently, let’s turn our minds to where we are going. This step will serve as the launching point for establishing our goals and objectives. I would like for us to do a brief visualization exercise. Close your eyes for a minute and imagine yourself looking at a desk calendar with the current date being shown. Watch the pages flip from today, to tomorrow, to the next day, then to the next month, and the next, and then to the next year, and the next, until we arrive at ____ date (ten years from now).
  • Imagine that you look up from your desk and you find yourself in an auditorium in which someone is speaking and announcing an award. You realize that the person speaking is _____________ and the award is the _______________ which goes to the organization which has __________________. The presenter says, ‘At no time in the history of the award until now has the judges been in unanimous agreement of the organization most deserving of this award. And this year the award goes to (this organization).’ There is a standing ovation, as people get out of their chairs to applaud. When the applause dies down, the presenter goes on to list all the accomplishments that made this organization deserving. Listen to what the presenter is saying (brief silence) Fill it in…what was it that the organization accomplished? (brief silence).
  • A video starts. There is a group of the organization’s customers in a focus group, and one customer says, ‘The thing that is great about this organization is…’(brief silence) Fill it in…what did that customer say? Another jumps in, ‘That’s all fine and wonderful, but the thing that really makes this organization stand out is…’ (brief silence).
  • The President gets up to accept the award and explains that ten years before a group came together to develop a plan that has resulted in this award. The President explains a number of things that were done. Listen to what the President says…What was it that the organization did? (brief silence)
  • As you are leaving you overhear a group of employees talking. They are saying that they didn’t believe the organization would actually change, but that it did. They begin talking about what it feels like to work there, how these changes have improved their lives. Listen to what they are saying. How does it feel to work there? (brief silence)
  • As you go back to your desk, you sit down and want to record some of the things you heard. What was it that the presenter said? Why did the Organization deserve the award? What was it that the President said was done to bring about these changes? What did the employees say about working there? Whenever you are ready, take a minute to jot down a note or two about what you heard.

Key Components of the Visualization Exercise

The visualization exercise presents the participants with a scenario in which they can visualize the organization as successful, but without the facilitator dictating what the success looks like. Therefore, the visualization must present the “outline” but each participant colors in the outline with his/her particular view.

Accordingly it is important to describe several different views.

  • Customers – Have the participants visualize and hear what customers are saying about the organization.
  • Employees – Have the participants visualize and hear what employees are saying about the organization.
  • Competitors/Other Stakeholders – Have the participants visualize and hear what competitors or other stakeholders are saying about the organization.
  • Actions – Have the participants visualize what actions were taken to achieve success.
  • Results – Have the participants visualize the results that were achieved.

The order you do these things may vary based on the visualization.

Goal Areas

After the visualization exercise, have each individual participant write out what they saw. Then, use breakout teams to have the participants create on post-its a consolidated set of vision elements that appeared in team members’ visions. Next, have the breakout teams review their vision element list with the entire team, and then group these into logical categories.

The categories represent the broad areas in which success is necessary. These areas become the definition of goals: broad aims that define success! Organizations are often surprised when they discover that this technique results in them identifying their key areas of success. But of course, the exercise is designed to have them visualize whatever success means to them.

Sample Results

Below are a series of vision elements coming from a visualization exercise and the goal statements created for a training organization.

Category LetterVision ElementCategory/Goal Names
AInnovative productsA. Product Innovation – Provide innovative products and services focused on meeting customer needs B. Culture – Promote a positive culture and a satisfying work environment C. Customer Intimacy – Maintain strong customer relationships D. Market Leadership – Be the market leader in soft skills training
DRocketed to number 1 in 5 years and has led ever since
ASales of products introduced in the prior 3 years make up 1/3 of revenue
CTook a customer intimacy positioning approach by having relationship managers perform needs assessment on the front end and do intensive follow-up with clients on the back end of all private classes
BEmployee satisfaction at an all-time high; turnover at an all-time low
CLed the industry in customer satisfaction 3 years in the row
AInvested 10% of revenues each year into R&D for client needs assessments and new product development
BOur workers say we are committed to life/work balance
DFirst to initiate nationwide radio campaign aimed at letting organizations know the value of a well-trained workforce
AUsing technology in innovative ways to reach audiences
BVoted as one of the best places to work
AProduced a new product line every 1-2 years
CPresident met with every major client annually to ask where they were going and how we could serve them better
BPeople lining up at the door to come work for us
DOur competitors vote us as the most admired company in the industry
DProfitability levels are twice the industry norm

You can learn more about strategic planning techniques in our upcoming course The Secrets to Facilitating Strategy. If you would like assistance in developing your strategic plan, you may be interested in looking at our three strategic planning packages.