Category Archives for goals

Strategic Planning: 3 Essential Keys to a Complete Strategic Plan That Gets Results

3 keys to a successful strategic plan

The strategic planning process doesn’t have to be stressful, cost a fortune or end up in a binder to gather dust on your shelf….

Have you ever felt strategic planning is a lot of work and expense for not a lot of return on your time or investment?

The good news is creating a strategic plan doesn’t require a lot of time away from the office or a huge, expensive team of external consultants.  Instead, it can be efficient because you can draw on your employees’ knowledge and expertise.  The process doesn’t have to cause unnecessary conflict, confusion, or stress. Best of all, it’ll use straightforward language without jargon and bake in accountability from start to finish.

Do you know you need a strategic plan but aren’t sure where to start?

If you have ever felt frustrated when it comes to creating or implementing a strategic plan in your organization, you aren’t alone.  It’s easy to make the process too complicated, costly and overwhelming, unless you keep it simple and focus on just the three essential components.

Click here to take this quick assessment to find out whether strategic planning in your organization is as stress free and effective as it should be!

An effective strategic planning process includes three key components.  If you skip or poorly execute any one of them, you are won’t get results and it could sit on the shelf collecting dust.  Sound familiar?

The huge costs associated with an incomplete strategic planning process and plan are:

  • Loss of leadership in the market and a sense of losing ground
  • Failure to accomplish anticipated operational and financial goals
  • Frustration in your organization and the view that strategic planning is a waste of time, and
  • Loss of credibility of you and your leadership team
  • Loss of the time and money spent on the first step of the process because the next steps aren’t completed

I’ll share with you the strategic planning process we use at The Center for Sustainable Strategies where we help our clients focus on three key elements:

#1 – Answer the “big” strategic planning questions – without jargon or by spending a fortune on a consulting firm

#2 – Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme – otherwise you’ll have a long list of initiatives, most of which will not get done

#3 – Implement with a clear 3 part accountability plan 

Good news!  You don’t have to hire an external consultant to create your strategic plan, but you (or a good facilitator) can lead your team through all three steps.

The 3 Essential Keys to a complete strategic planning process:

This process is most effective when you schedule three 2-hour blocks of uninterrupted, focused time with all of your employees, or a one and a half or two day offsite retreat with key team members.  If you have more than 10-20 employees, ask for volunteers from different departments to encourage diversity in thinking and keep the discussion manageable. Break people up into small groups to answer the questions and report back to the larger group, otherwise it’s challenging to keep everyone focused.

  1. Collectively answer the “big” strategic planning questions – The big questions to be answered in your first planning session include:
  • Who are our customers and how can we better serve them?
  • Who are our competitors and how can we beat them?
  • What do we do best and how can we build on that edge?
  • How can we prepare the organization to defend against threats and seize opportunities?
  • What are potential “what if?” scenarios we need to consider for the future and how will we prepare for them?

Unfortunately, many strategic planning sessions are filled with inefficient discussions and result in a list of jargon-filled answers.  Encourage the use of clear language everyone can understand, leaving no room for guesswork.   Drill down to specific answers to these questions, so you can take them to the point of creating clear initiatives that can and will get done.

Key Take Away: The big strategic planning questions are worthless if they don’t result in a few clear, compelling strategic initiatives that will grow and strengthen your organization.

  1. Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme. The most important outcome of the first part of the strategic planning process is to identify the most important priorities for your organization.

In this second meeting you will:

  • Start with your long list of potential priorities from the first session
  • As a group discuss the relative value of each, and
  • Hone in on only a few key priorities

By having a well-facilitated discussion you will have greater clarity about the big strategic planning questions, especially about what the organization should do best.

Once a list of no more than three to five priorities is agreed upon, the group can come up with a strategic theme. This is a one-line statement that conveys the overall compelling strategic push for the organization that clearly aligns everyone and focuses on the direction of your company. Examples could include:

  • Beat (Our Top Competitor)!
  • Zero Safety Incidents
  • Expand to markets in the southwest region
  • 0% medical errors
  • Become a magnet for top talent

Key Take Away: During this session, many companies just settle for a long list of priorities. While the benefit here is usually to avoid conflict, reduce tension and make sure that nobody feels excluded or insulted. However, doing so makes it highly unlikely that the organization will get any of the initiatives completed because of the feeling of overwhelm that will result from a lack of clarity and focus.  People have to believe the strategic plan is do-able and achievable to feel excited and motivated to take action.

  1. Implement. The biggest complaint I hear about strategy is that it never seems to get fully executed or completed. The five biggest mistakes I see are:
  • Not setting clear roles, responsibilities, accountability, and rewards systems
  • Failing to take things off the plate of busy employees, just stacking more work on them
  • Neglecting to commit essential resources to the strategy, including capital, training, technology, people
  • Lacking will to stop old initiatives that compete with the new
  • Giving up after a few setbacks or initial resistance, instead of getting feedback and making small adjustments needed to stay on track

Key Take Away: If you want to have a sound strategy you will spend as much time on implementation planning as you do on the more glamorous work of answering the key strategic questions and setting priorities.

While some organizations are strong at asking the big picture questions, but they fail to follow up or bake in accountability. Some set too many priorities, and can’t say “no” to good ideas, despite limited resources. Others are strong at executing, but lack the vision to develop compelling strategic initiatives. Which of the above areas is or potentially could be the weakest area in your organization?  How can you address them?


We’ve covered a strategic planning process that simple  to implement, efficient and gets results. The 3 essential keys to include in your strategic planning process are:

#1 – Answer the “big” strategic planning

#2 – Set a few clear priorities and an overall strategic theme

#3 – Implement

REMEMBER: Successful Strategic Plans are a process, not an event. 

After you’ve completed the strategic planning process and have a written plan, including any agreements and clear do-able accountability steps for everyone (including yourself), be sure to schedule quarterly reviews to ensure everyone is on track.  This is a good time to make any adjustments necessary so you can continue to implement your plan.  Create a one-sheet strategic plan and post it so all can see and be accountable.  Celebrate milestones in your quarterly meetings and as part of your posted plan so everyone can see progress in action!

Click here to take this quick assessment to find out whether strategic planning in your organization is as stress free and effective as it should be!


Why you’ll never get promoted if you follow the rules

Will 2014 be the year you finally get promoted?corporate_climb_up_500_wht


Why not?

You have followed all the Spoken Rules of Getting Promoted:

  • Worked hard and long hours to be a strong contender for the promotion to fill the position as the newest Director or VP in your company.
  • Listened to upper management who has given you what seems to be good, well-meaning advice.
  • Read the employee manual that defines all twenty seven leadership competencies identified by HR and expert consultants specifically to be considered to fill the leadership role.
  • The company’s mission and vision statement is framed on your office wall, strategically placed right behind your desk so all who enter your office can’t help but know you live and breathe “The Code.”

Here’s the bad news:  If you only listen to the spoken (or written) rules and are unaware it is actually the Unspoken Rules of how to get promoted that determine what it really takes to get promoted in your company, you may be passed up (again) for the next opportunity to advance your career.  Click here to get the inside scoop you need to get promoted in 2014 over at

What is Unspoken Rule #1 in your company and how did you discover it?

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What Do Frogs Have To Do with Brain-Based Leaders and Learning?

Riddle:  “Once upon a time, two frogs were sitting on a log in the middle of a lake, and one frog decided to jump off, how many frogs were left sitting on the log?

Answer: Two frogs.

Why? The same reason only 3% of the population set and actually achieve their goals or maintain positive, well-intentioned change in the first place. The frog missed three critical steps of Achieving his Goal: Ask, Announce, Act (and Ask again).

The frog understood WHY it was a good idea to jump off, because he was an intelligent, high achieving, upwardly mobile frog.  He understood there were more opportunities and freedom if he left the comfort of the log.  While the frog understood why, and although he did decide … he didn’t take action.

What about accountability and following up? Perhaps if the first frog told the second frog he was going to jump off, he would have followed through on his promise and lived happily ever after. Does this story sound familiar? Whoops, wrong story. That’s enough about frogs …Now let’s make the story relevant.

Leaders and Learning:  Which skills are more critical to your success strategic skills or soft skills?

“Almost 50% of newly hired or newly promoted leaders quit or get fired before their 18 month anniversary …”  (Hint: The majority of failure is not a result of lack of business savvy or technical skills, but a lack of interpersonal or communication skills.)

… and another statistic:

“The divorce rate in the US is around 50% …” As a marriage counselor for 14 years, I will also bet the reason is the same … lack of effective communication skills by one or both people.

Question: Which is easier for you to achieve: your company’s strategic goals or your soft skills or interpersonal goals? “What are ‘personal development goals’ and why would I, Mr. or Ms. Super Successful CEO need them?” you ask?

Because you don’t want to be a statistic.

By lack of interpersonal or soft skills I mean the inability to manage your emotions. You, who growl and snap when your assistant forgets an important detail about a meeting. You, the exhausted Senior VP who feels like you start your day in at a jog and feel like you’ve run a marathon by the time 8 pm rolls around. You, the up and coming leader who promised your son you’d get home in time to see him play baseball and you missed it again. Yes, you, the human part of the executive equation.

What difference will it make when you have mastered the higher level communication and relationship skills that prevent these conflicts? You understand why personal skill development is important, may have decided to make a change, but are you ready to take action and jump off of the log?

What if you had a simple, 3 step brain-based learning strategy to make lasting, positive changes in your actions, your communication style or your interpersonal skills as easily as you develop and achieve your strategic company objectives for 2012? I said it was simple, I didn’t say it would be easy …

AAA: The Triple Threat Solution … 3 Simple Steps: Ask, Announce & Act (Repeat)

Step #1: Ask. Ask others what they see you can improve upon. After all, perception is reality and their perception of how you communicate rather than your perception of how you communicate matters most.

Step #2: Announce. Tell people what you are working on. This not only holds you more accountable for change, it also subconsciously invites people to look for and more likely notice the positive change you will be making.

Step #3: Act. Just do it. Look for opportunities to interrupt an old pattern. Try taking a few deep breaths next time you feel tense going into a meeting (holding our breath triggers Lizard Brain). Instead of saying “No” immediately to an idea proposed in a project meeting, take a moment and respond “Interesting, let’s consider that idea.”

Then, repeat #1: Ask. Remind others of what you are working on and then check in and ask “How am I doing?” Where are you inviting them to focus? Right. On what you are changing, because otherwise, people may not notice, allowing the negative things you say or do to stand out more automatically.

So, what are your waiting for? Jump!


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What’s your BHAG?

What’s your BHAG?

Sustainable Leaders create keystone habits that leverage small wins to achieve BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals)

While “SMART goals” have their purpose and place, creating and maintaining new habits is a more effective strategy.

There are many reasons people are reluctant to set goals, and even more reasons why they fail to achieve goals.  If this is you, consider these key ingredients:

1. Public accountability – Tell someone, better yet put it in writing AND share it with others!

2. A shorter feedback loop or time-frame (30 days is perfect) with which to adjust course as necessary.

3.  1 Action Step you can take in the next 48 hours is essential to motivate you to continue with the next Action Step (and public accountability for that action is essential, too).

4. Clear Impact:  Can you answer the question, “What difference will it make for me, my family, community, organization, customers, etc.) when I achieve the goal?”

5. You have a BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious) goal, that involves your team and their public buy in, too!

Start now:  Post  your BHAG for 2013?  If you have one for yourself and one for your organization, post it too!

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Grit: Whatever you do, don’t quit!

Grit:  Whatever you do, don’t quit!

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about,
When he might have won had he stuck it out;
Don’t give up though the pace seems slow—
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than,
It seems to a faint and faltering man,
Often the struggler has given up,
When he might have captured the victor’s cup,
And he learned too late when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out—
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems so far,
So stick to the fight when you’re hardest hit—
It’s when things seem worst that you must not quit

Thank you to Michael Hyatt, who published this inspirational poem, Author Anonymous on his blog over at Intentional Leadership.

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One famous cowboy’s secret to success in life and business …

“Community happens when people serve selflessly to achieve a common purpose, neither for

Out West Leadership

duty nor cause, but because they truly love and care about the people they are serving with. When this transformation happens they will do, with joy, tasks that would otherwise be perceived as burdensome or even impossible.”

In the 90′s movie “City Slickers” the cowboy character, Curly, shares with Billy Crystal the secret to life (and business)…“ONE THING”.

Do you know your “one thing”? Does your organization have a “one thing”? Is there a word or idea that is at the center of everything you do…can you name it? Can the people in the organization name it? One of my favorite sayings is that unless you have a bigger “YES” it’s hard to say “NO” to the things that don’t really matter. Often times your “One Thing” provides that bigger “Yes”.

Click here to read the rest of Scott Mabry’s post on “Out West Leadership …” (and my response)


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A “heads-up” for newly promoted or recently hired leaders: How to keep from losing your new position …

Congratulations on your promotion (or maybe you are in line for one) … but don’t celebrate too soon. Did you know almost 50% of newly promoted or newly hired executives get fired or quit before within the first 18 months on the job?  

Are you wondering whether you are meeting expectations or falling short in your new position?

The expectations are high (yours and theirs) and yet there’s so much you don’t know about the people, the culture and the “unspoken rules.”

On top of that, you must get up to speed quickly so you can hit the ground running and feel satisfied at the end of the day.

You’re invited to see the webinar replay now available through June 17th:

 “Just Promoted? Discover 3 Powerful Strategies to Keep Your Leadership Position”

Discover the pitfalls you need to avoid and understand the critical strategies new leaders must practice to eliminate “leadership stress” and earn the trust of your new team … so you don’t end up a statistic.

Here are just two of the biggest mistakes new leaders make:

Pitfall #1: Failure to understand why change (even “good” change) is hard and most change initiatives fall flat (and this includes your presence, even if your predecessor was a miserable manager). Hint: Small change over a period of time leads to lasting, long term change.  Scale down a change initiative into an “experiment” in one department or with one small group first, instead of rolling it out company wide and crossing your fingers it takes hold. 

Pitfall #2: Believing that understanding the problem alone is enough to make change happen.  Don’t fall into the trap of “over-analysis” or worse, who’s to blame for the problem.  Ask better questions to find solutions and take action as soon as possible.  “What is good about this problem?” and “What is not perfect yet?” are just two of the five questions teams need to feel creative and take decisive steps to action.

For more pitfalls to avoid for new (and seasoned) leaders, click here to get access to the replay through June 17th

“Just Promoted? Discover Powerful Strategies to Keep Your Leadership Position”

(The bottom line is you’ll want to have these tools to accelerate your leadership effectiveness for the long haul, too.)

Questions? Comments? Advice for new leaders?  Post your thoughts below!

Leaders: Do you have the courage to jump?

(Originally written and published for the LeadChange Blog)

Leaders: How are your people skills?  The better question is “How would your team describe your people skills?”  While you may be able to acknowledge this is an area you could use some improvement, setting “soft skill” goals may feel like trying to grab a handful of jello.

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If you were my client and I asked, “Do you have your goals to be a better leader (or communicator) clearly defined, written down and measurable?” I will probably hear your eyes roll into the back of their head. Perhaps you may have set goals in the past and not achieved lasting change. Not because you lacked understanding or even desire to change, but because of failure to follow Steps #2 and #3 of the change process. (Click here to read Step #1 and #2 and #3 in the previous post on Leadership, Frogs & Goals).

Change is simple, but not always easy, unless you follow all three steps. And repeat.

Step #3: ACT

Understanding alone is overrated. We’ve all decided taking action is a good idea. But we are still sitting on the log. Change requires ACTION. Understanding or having the awareness of why your sarcastic tone is caustic , or why you should quit smoking, drinking too much is a necessary first step, after you announce your intention to change to others, you must now jump off the log.

The key to making lasting behavioral change is simple: small actions over a period of time result in SIGNIFICANT LONG TERM CHANGE. You’re not perfect; you are going to slip up. When you do, ACKNOWLEDGE IT OUT LOUD and MOVE FORWARD.

Here’s how:

#1. Small change counts more than you think. While you may think you have a problem finishing something, I will propose you may actually have a STARTING problem instead. Here’s your challenge: Can you do anything for 5 minutes? Sure you can, so start there.

Here are a few idea starters: Walk, ride a bike, stretch, meditate, breathe, listen deeply, play with your kids, hang out with your partner with your cell phone off, plan a goal or project with paper and pencil, organize your desk. Try doing whatever “it” is for 5 minutes (because if you can’t do something for 5 minutes, trust me, you have bigger problems).

Make an appointment with yourself and put it in the calendar to do one or two times a week for the first week and build slowly. Exercise, quitting smoking, practice being a better listener all lend themselves to the “Do it for 5 minutes” strategy. Preparing your taxes is another. Yes, you have a few months, but what difference will it make if you start now with 5 minutes a week? April 14th might just be a more relaxing day! Like shampoo: Rinse, lather, repeat.

Then, repeat Step #1: Ask. Ask again by following up with the family, friends (and if you really want to be transparent include your staff) and ask “How am I doing?” Then LISTEN. Say “Thank you” in response to their answers. As Marshall Goldsmith says, we can’t go wrong if we respond with a genuine “Thank you” to any information, negative or positive, someone offers us.

Why should I ask again? Two reasons. Ask others with the intention of to simply gather information, as if you are on your own personal recognizance mission. Because you will use what you hear people say to accomplish two things:

#1. To adjust course. Like a pilot in an airplane getting feedback from the instrument panel who is flying from New York to Los Angeles, simply adjust what you are doing, a little to the left, a little to the right, toward your destination. Just view it as information, not right or wrong, good or bad, no big deal. Adjust course as needed.

#2. To build trust. Remember how I said this step is critical? Here’s why … by announcing publically your are human and are working on improving yourself and by following up and asking “How am I doing with ______?” and really listening to their response, you will build trust by showing you really care. That is as long as you do really care, because when you are genuine it is FELT. If you don’t really care, well, that’s palpable, too. If you really don’t care, don’t ask.

AAA: The key to becoming a Sustainable Leader and exceeding your personal development goals.

If you truly desire to be an exceptional leader of people, you will earn more trust by following up with this step exactly as written, than with anything else you ever have the guts to do, which is be human.

So if two frogs were sitting on a log, and you were one of the frogs, and you decide to jump off, what’s the answer now?

The Leader’s 3 Step Triple Threat to Achieving Goals: Have the courage to say it out loud

Are you an emerging leader or newly promoted leader looking for a goal-setting strategy to make lasting, positive changes in your interpersonal or communication skills? Originally posted on Lead Change Blog

(Click here to read Step #1: Ask …)

Here is Step #2 of The 3 Step Triple Threat… Ask, Announce, Act (Repeat)


How many times have you promised yourself you’ll exercise today, start your diet tomorrow, finish writing that marketing plan by Friday (okay, that’s mine), only to “run out of time” and fail to keep your promise to yourself? All too often.

Now, how often do you make a business appointment with a client and fail to show up? Probably never.

Why is it we are willing to fail to follow through with commitments we make to ourselves, yet never in a million years would we “no show” for an appointment with a client or friend?

Here are two reasons: we are accountable to someone else and we want to avoid feeling embarrassed (or some other negative emotion). Accountability means we have some skin in the game … which can come in several different forms.

If money matters you will further increase the likelihood you will set and achieve your goals when you have a financial skin in the game. I have a business-coaching client who was required to improve his mental capacity, problem solving ability and focus to succeed in his next stage of business growth. However, he failed to follow through with an action step for three consecutive weeks. So we got creative and leveraged what was important to him … cold hard cash. Because of his financial and relational sense of responsibility, he never missed a coaching appointment with me, so he wrote me a check for his regular coaching session fee of $500.00. He said, “If I do this by next Tuesday, you give me back my check at our next session. If I don’t, no matter what the excuse, you cash the check and donate it to a local charity of your choice.” Another quality of his was he was very honest, however I could also verify whether he followed through or not.

What do you think happened? Right. He attended his class for several weeks in a row and now is in the routine. He also asked if I would keep the check in my file so he could keep it as a motivator to get other “someday goals” started.

Step #2: Announce publicly what you are working on and your specific plans to improve. In the next post, you’ll discover the secret of why this is the most important step.

If you aren’t yet ready to pick up the megaphone and make the public announcement, find a mentor, good friend or executive coach you can trust who will be honest with you yet who does not have anything to gain or lose by your action (or inaction).

Who will you ask to hold your feet to the fire?  Contact me today to see if you are ready to take this next step.


Post your comments below (only if you have the courage to announce it publicly!)

What will it look like when you have skin in the game?

Stay tuned for the “how to” for Step #3: ACT

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The 3 Step Triple Threat: Become an excellent communicator to be a better leader

AAA: The 3 Step Triple Threat… Ask, Announce, Act (Repeat)

(Part 2 of a 3 part series: What do frogs have to do with leadership and goals?)

Research shows only 3% of the population sets and puts their goals in writing.  Of those written goals, I will guess the majority is strategic goals and the minority is in the area of soft skills, specifically interpersonal and communication skills at work.  Why?  While strategic goals may be easier to measure, the interpersonal skills may contribute to leadership success.

Step #1: ASK

Take a poll, choose a goal and define success.  When it comes to how you can improve in the interpersonal department, ask someone who will tell you the truth, because your employees or colleagues may not, even if you do have the courage to ask them (courage is an advanced level skill, by the way).

All you will say in response to your questions is a genuine, “Thank you.”  No arguing, “yes, but” -ing or coming to your own defense.  Just shut up and listen.

  • Take a poll: Ask your family and a close friend or two the first question, “What are one or two areas where you see opportunities for my improvement?”
  • Chose a goal: You may get several different answers, so pick one that interests you, if possible.
  • Define success with the answers to the second question, “What will I be doing or saying that will be a sign to you I am making progress toward my goal?”  Why ask?  First, your close friends and family won’t lie to you because they don’t have anything to lose.  Second, what you think you should do isn’t nearly as important as what others perceive.  Odds are, if your family and friends come up with similar areas of improvement, your employees will agree, too.

Your action step:  What did you come up with after Step #1:  Ask?  Write it down, or better yet, post it below!

 Stay tuned for Step #2:  Announce … 

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