Some of the organizations that did not achieve their targets for 2013 started 2014 in holes. Many stayed focused on achieving the current year’s targets through the end of last year instead of factoring the potential misses into their 2014 plans. They were in denial – either consciously or unconsciously. Jim Collins describes one good solution as the “Stockdale Paradox” – unwavering faith that you can and will prevail with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of current reality.

This matches destination planning:

  1. What’s our destination?
  2. What’s the current reality?
  3. How do we bridge the gaps?

Many organizations find it relatively easy to align around a destination. They may also be good at generating ideas to bridge the gaps. But these are intellectual exercises with no value if you don’t have the right view of the current reality.

Get help. It’s hard to build a complete view of your own current reality because you are looking at it through your own eyes with your own biases and hopes. Back to the point about the organizations starting 2014 in a hole. Even though all the data suggested they were going to miss their 2013 targets, they held on to them to the end, delaying the delivery of bad news as long as possible. Some are repeating the mistake this year. As they miss their unrealistic Q1 targets, they are just adding the miss into Q2 with stories about bad weather or timing.

Get outside views: from customers, suppliers, consumers, industry experts, analysts, from anyone that isn’t part of your organization. Factor that thinking into a more honest view of your strengths and weaknesses. Then combine those with outside opportunities and threats to build a complete SWOT analysis as the base of your planning.

Then deploy a disciplined, complete planning process like the one outlined in our new book, First-Time Leader. (Request an executive summary.)

  1. Set an aspirational destination (derived from the mission and vision).
  2. Assess the facts of the current reality and develop potential future scenarios.
  3. Identify options to bridge gaps between the current reality and the desired aspiration.
  4. Evaluate options under different scenarios. Make choices.
  5. Develop detailed plans that will deliver on selected strategies.
  6. Act, measure, adjust, and repeat.

As an area sales manager selling Lever Brothers’ soap in the 1980s, my team was part of a district that was tracking just below our sales quotas. Each month we’d have a district meeting in the middle of the month to map out how we could make up as much of our shortfall as possible over the remaining weeks. We generally got close, but rarely over the line. One month our district sales manager called a halt.

“I don’t want to talk about this month anymore. Let’s focus on what we can do to get ahead of the curve for next month.”

Our final customer calls for the month were different. Instead of begging customers to accelerate orders to help us hit our numbers, we talked about what we could do to help them leverage our products to build their businesses over time.

We made the next 26 quotas and became the top district in the country.

Facing up to your current reality requires courage. Not doing so is a recipe for disaster. Get out of denial. Get the brutal facts on the table. Then figure out how to overcome the barriers, bridge the gaps, and move forward towards the destination you want and deserve.

Follow this link for an overview of George Bradt’s New Leader’s Playbook and click-throughs to all the articles on executive onboarding and BRAVE leadership.