featured image

Aligning to a True North

Table of Contents

Without a clear Desired Future State (DFS), companies lack focus and alignment resulting in poor decisions and wasted money. Having a well understood DFS gives employees a shared true north. It guarantees everyone is pulling in the same direction and towards the same outcome. 

Why it Matters 

Setting a DFS is an important part of creating the vision and culture for your company. It provides direction and focus and can help to motivate and inspire your team. It guides other, typically shorter-term decisions and goals. 

The definition of a company’s vision should combine three elements: 

  1. Core Purpose – WHY the organization exists.
  2. Core Values – HOW people are expected to behave.
  3. Desired Future State (DFS) – WHERE the organization is going and what it’s trying to achieve. 

In turn, a well constructed DFS has two elements: a Long-Term Inspiring Goal and a Painted Picture of the envisioned future state. 

The Long-Term Inspiring Goal is akin to the Big, Hairy, Audacious Goal, a term coined by Jim Collins and Jerry Porras in their book, "Built to Last: Successful Habits of Visionary Companies," According to Collins and Porras, it should …”  

  1. Be set well into the future (10-25 years).
  2. Stated as something that no one has a clear notion of how to achieve.
  3. Written in a way that progress can be measured (or accompanied by a measurement method).
  4. Scare you.  

It should serve as a catalyst for change and drive innovation since just doing what you are doing now won’t get the desired outcome. It should encourage teams to think outside the box and come up with creative approaches. 

Here are a few examples of Long-Term Inspiring Goals set by real companies: 

  • Amazon's is to become the world's most customer-centric company. This goal has driven Amazon to constantly innovate and improve its customer experience, from its fast and convenient delivery options to its easy-to-use website and mobile app.
  • For Starbucks, it’s “To turn the Starbucks brand into the most recognized and respected consumer brand in the world, a position that’s currently held by Coca-Cola.”
  • Google's long-term goal is to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful. This goal has led Google to develop a range of products and services, from search engines to cloud storage to self-driving cars.
  • At Tesla, the goal is to accelerate the world's transition to sustainable energy. This goal has driven Tesla to develop electric vehicles and renewable energy products, such as solar panels and home batteries.
  • Apple's is to design and develop innovative products that change the world. This goal has led Apple to create products such as the iPhone, iPod, and iPad, which have revolutionized the way we communicate, listen to music, and access information.
  • Here at Results, our Long-Term Inspiring Goal is “Impacting Canada by helping organizations become great places to work, one team at a time,” which is supplemented with a count of how many employees we have influenced by working with their leadership teams. The target for this measure is 150,000 employees by 2031. 

    Goal to help people

How to Construct Your Desired Future State 

Setting long-term business goals or targets is an important part of creating a vision for your company. It helps to provide direction and focus for your business and can also help to motivate and inspire your team. Here are some tips for constructing your Desired Future State: 

  1. Start with Context: As noted above, establishing a DFS must be done alongside knowing why your business exists (purpose) and what you hope to achieve. This will help you to create a goal that is meaningful and aligned with your purpose and values. Together, the DFS, Purpose and Values are the three legs of the stool for your vision and culture.
  2. Be inspiring: When setting a Long-Term Inspiring Goal as part of the DFS, make sure it meets the BHAG criteria listed above: it should be future focused, scary, exciting, and motivating.
  3. Make it measurable: A long-term goal should be something that can be measured, so that you can track your progress and determine whether you are on track to achieve it. This could involve setting specific metrics or benchmarks to help you measure your progress.
  4. Bring the DFS to life by adding a Painted Picture.  Henry Ford didn’t just have the aspiration “To Democratize the Automobile”, he brought it to life by describing what that would look and feel like for everyone:
    We will build a motor car for the great multitude.… It will be so low in price that no man making a good salary will be unable to own one and enjoy with his family the blessing of hours of pleasure in God’s great open spaces.… When we're through, everybody will be able to afford one, and everyone will have one. The horse will have disappeared from our highways, the automobile will be taken for granted…[and we will] give a large number of men employment at good wages.”  Henry Ford
  5. Make the Desired Future State part of the Strategy Choice Cascade: As we wrote recently, business strategy involves a series of aligned, cascaded decisions. Your DFS should not only be consistent with your values and purpose, but should also link to other strategic decisions like what markets you will play in, how you will differentiate from the competition, and where you will invest to build capabilities. Most importantly, it should help you make strategic decisions for the quarter, the year, and the next 3-5 years. 

Unleashing the Potential of Your Organization 

Constructing a well thought out Desired Future State is an important part of creating a vision for your company. By following these steps, you can create a description that will help to guide and motivate your team as you work towards achieving it. It will be the compass that always points to true north. 

If you’d like to learn more about how to build and create a great vision, or other ways you can take the simpler path to creating a great business, connect with us or consider attending one of our upcoming leadership events.