What do we do now? What are the next steps? ….

We see it all the time in our jobs and professions. This insatiable need to take action. This desire for "progress". We seem to be forever in various stages of defining action plans, setting targets, organizing teams---all focused on "making something happen"?

And, of course, they do create action. Things will "happen". After all, the very nature of these efforts is activity, putting things in motion.

But, are they the right things? And, even if they may be, are they sustainable? In other words, will what we are doing lead to sustainably improved business performance?

Unfortunately, history has not been kind. These efforts often lead nowhere, or if they do create positive results, they are frequently illusory and unsustainable. Interestingly, the problem typically lies not with the work itself. Most organizations can do a credible job of carrying out action plans if properly nourished (capital, talent) and motivated (leadership). The issue isn't necessarily one of management, or the inability to do the work.

Rather, more often than not, the organization is simply working on the wrong things, in the wrong order. They are doing a good job, even an excellent job at times, of simply delivering the wrong solutions faster.

What is needed is to make sure, as leaders, that the enterprise is focusing its limited talent and capital on the right topics. So, when they do their good job of execution, it results in impacts that really matter to the performance of the company.

This relentless focus on the right topics defines the crucial gap between mediocre organizations and high performance organizations.

And, it all starts with the right questions.

We believe that nothing influences high performance and sustainable success more than making sure that the leadership of the enterprise remains focused on the right questions. The answers to these questions---the solutions---will at times be tricky, but more often than not, if you make sure you are answering the right questions, then it is much more likely that the results you get, even if suboptimal, will have a far greater impact on success than an excellent execution towards the wrong goals.

Consequently, a key issue for an organization is to ensure that the leadership is mercilessly focusing on the right questions. And, we mean focus with laser-like intensity. This means two things: There should only be a handful of questions (a small number concentrates the mind and the organization) and, these questions need to be continually reviewed to ensure they remain the most relevant issues for where the organization is at that moment.

Because alignment of the leadership is central for sustainable success, these questions must necessarily arise within this group. Moreover, the most compelling questions for the leadership team tend to be a variant of "who, exactly, are we?". The questions below can be a useful starting point for getting to this answer:

  • How do we add the most value? What is our most compelling value proposition?
  • What customer segments have the greatest need?
  • What is our future business model? How do we serve those needs?
  • What business and technology capabilities best deliver that model?
  • How are those capabilities best provisioned?
  • What does success look like, exactly?
  • What is the case for change: Why do we need to do anything materially different than we do now?
  • How have we agreed to hold each other accountable for the decisions we have made?
  • What are the highest return, lowest risk actions for addressing these questions?

In many companies, unfortunately, it still remains difficult to explore these very existential issues. They are often viewed as too soft a topic, or as not being relevant, or actionable, but in our view an organization that has a deep connection to its roots, to its sense of who it is, and how it chooses to deliver value to its customers is an enterprise that knows where it is heading. This is an organization that has the confidence to make the tough choices about where and how to compete, and to do it in ways that preserve its integrity and authenticity. And, an organization that acts authentically, is naturally sustainable.