Reality Check: How Focused are Those Future Plans?

Visionary. Innovative. Aspirational. We hear these words all the time, especially at an executive level. There’s another word, though, that’s equally important – but perhaps not quite as prevalent:


Because what we’re encountering more and more frequently are organisations with plenty of ambitious objectives – but few of the precise, future-focused plans required to achieve them. The result? A large number of execs who are feeling more overwhelmed by initiatives than inspired by them. “We’re always hearing about ambitious projects for improving the way organisations work,” says PEPworldwide managing director Kathryn Anda. “What we don’t see quite as frequently is people making progress on achieving them – often because they simply don’t know where to begin.”

Now, we like to think that as true PEP devotees, you’ve got daily and weekly planning down. And as we’ve also recently hammered home the importance of being future-focused, we’re sure you’re across that too. In this situation, however, what’s required is a shift of focus beyond everyday efficiencies to an even broader perspective: “Rather than planning week by week, this is about examining the ‘big picture’ objectives that you need to achieve within a quarterly, six-monthly or annual period,” explains Anda. “We tell people it’s like getting up into the clouds – instead of reacting to what’s immediately around you, try to rise above the day-to-day and look down on your business from an elevated perspective.”

Granted, it’s not often we encourage people to keep their heads in the clouds. But don’t be fooled – this exercise isn’t as waffly as it sounds. “Think about what you need to address at a high level that will make a significant difference to your organisation,” says Anda. And then – and this is the crucial bit – clarify what needs to happen for this goal to be realised within your required timeframe. “For example, in order to achieve a target by the final quarter of the year you may need to undertake some research,” Anda explains. “If you’re waiting until the last quarter to start that research, you’ve already missed the boat.”

Miss the boat? Not on our watch. Our handy how-to guide below will keep you from playing catch-up:

1. Make a list – a high-level one, that is.

Be warned: this requires a little more thought than your usual checklists. The aim here is to clarify what three things will make the most substantial impact on your business over the next year. This exercise may not be easy. But trust us – it will be very, very useful.

2. Assess your progress.

Have you identified what’s required to address these three issues? If action is already underway, fantastic – take a moment to feel a little smug, and keep up the good work. And if not:

3. Break it down.

One bite at a time, remember? Break each objective into manageable mouthfuls. And once again, a little more thought than usual is required for this process: “As these are long-term projects, break each one down by quarter, then by month, then by week,” advises Anda. “This way, you can integrate each piece into your and your team’s weekly workload and ensure that everyone is working on the right activities to achieve these goals.” And remember:

4. Be realistic.

Can it actually be done? Don’t be afraid to prioritise: assess which targets are actually achievable. Some of them won’t be – and that’s ok. The important thing is that you, your team and your CEO have complete clarity on what is going to be accomplished and when.

A “big picture” perspective. A precise plan of attack. It’s a pretty straightforward strategy, right? And it’s a successful one, too. Anda cites the example of an HR director who was working soul-destroying hours as she struggled to implement 48 different strategic projects within a twelve-month period.

“Once we assessed exactly what she was trying to achieve, we were then able to address how she needed to prioritise these projects. We established that she needed to go back to her CEO and identify when each particular project could feasibly be completed and, most importantly, which ones were not actually achievable within the year,” remembers Anda. “This gave her much greater clarity, both with her CEO and, particularly, with her team. They were able to focus at a much higher level, which gave them the direction they required. They had a plan in place for the year and they knew exactly what they were going to achieve.”

The moral to the story? By all means keep your head in the clouds – after all, a sky-high view provides a much clearer picture of the landscape spread out below. Just make sure you’re ready to hit the ground running.