The Two Keys to Better Results in 2021

In these first few weeks of 2021 one thing is abundantly clear – change, disruption and challenge are going to be with us for the foreseeable future. It’s time to move beyond survival mode and figure out how to thrive. Simplicity and focus are key. The organizations and teams that create sustained alignment, keep engagement high and outperform their competition will start 2021 answering two questions:

What is our North Star?
How will we create and maintain strategic clarity?

Without a clear purpose and understanding of what continues to be important in a rapidly changing environment, work becomes fractured, misaligned and frustrating. Recently, McKinsey examined how 30 top companies are preparing for the future. 83% are taking bold moves around their purpose, their North Star. Research shows that strategic clarity accounts for 31% of the difference between high and low performance in terms of revenue growth, profitability, customer loyalty, leadership effectiveness and employee engagement. Research also tells us that finding meaning – having purpose, a North Star – is a universal intrinsic motivator.

Answering “What Is Our North Star?” Provides Clear Purpose

For centuries, travelers have navigated by the North Star. No matter the circumstance, it was a constant in the night sky. It is the answer to the questions, “why do we exist?  What is our purpose?” With today’s unpredictability and the need for agility, your North Star defines the constant core that will drive strategy, priorities and decisions. Without a North Star, agility becomes chaos. Decision-making and priority setting are reactive, siloed and lack alignment.
Defining the North Star should start with the executive team but not end there. Share the definition. Ask what resonates and what’s missing. Create a short statement that is understandable, memorable and defines the essence of why the organization exists. If the statement sounds something like “to increase shareholder value,” keep asking “is that really the core of who we are? Is our purpose larger than that?” Test how simple and memorable it is. After broad and intentional communication, ask 10 random people what the North Star is. If it’s not consistent, you have more work to do.

Strategic Clarity Provides the Map

Strategic clarity follows from strategic simplicity.
Donald Sull, a global authority on strategy execution, recommends three questions that create simplicity and actionable clarity  out of complex strategies.
  • What are your critical business drivers?
  • What are the 3-5 challenges we need to overcome to succeed in 2021?
  • What are our must-win battles?
I add one more question that I believe is essential in today’s environment:
  • How will we keep ahead of or quickly be responsive to changes that occur?

Answering the first three questions brings clarity to targets and daily choices. Why did we choose these targets and those activities? For example, why is our target 3 % growth instead of 5% growth? Why are we focused on digital transformation? Sure, it’s to stay competitive; but specifically, HOW will it help your organization? What business strategies will it support? Can everyone in the organization explain strategy and how it manifests in their function, and in their role? If not, some of your people may be rowing in the wrong direction.

The final question recognizes that change will remain constant and that as we address the challenges and must-win battles, tactics may need to be altered or changed completely. It tells people we recognize that change will occur and leveraging it (instead of fearing it) is how we succeed.
In 2021 we’ll have our next new normal. My prediction is that many people will still feel like their organization’s goals have little connection to their work because things have shifted… again.
By having a North Star and simplifying your strategy to create clarity, your team will be better aligned and more engaged.