The 3-Rung Ladder

I see the following all the time:  Leaders have two clear pictures in their minds.

The first picture depicts the position of the organization/division/ department/etc. as it currently stands. Most leaders know how well they are doing compared to annual goals and budget.  This is the day-t0-day, ‘on the ground’ picture which shows today’s reality.

The second picture depicts the position of the organization/division/ department/etc. as the leader would like for it to be in the future.  Most leaders can describe how well their units should be operating – what goals they should be achieving, how much money they should be raising, how many constituents they should be serving, etc.  This is the big, dreaming, ‘in the clouds’ picture.

The clarity is lost when you ask some leaders to describe how to get from the current picture to the future picture.   From where the organization is today to where it should be tomorrow.  From the ground to the clouds.

To make the path more clear I propose a ‘ground to clouds’ ladder with 3 rungs.  Each of the rungs represents a key organizational asset which must be strengthened in order to reach the clouds.  Here are the 3 rungs:

  • People. Without question this rung is the most important.  And the most important question is not one of quantity or even structure.  It’s quality.  Simply put, do you have the right people associated with your organization?  Let’s pause here for a moment.  If you think I’m talking about staff you are mistaken.  I’m talking about the right volunteers.  Do you have volunteers of influence and affluence on your board, on your advisory councils, etc?  And, more importantly, are you engaging them in meaningful ways?  Through their generosity and their willingness to persuade others to be generous, these key people will enable your organization to climb from the ground to the clouds.
  • Goal Discipline.  What are the 3-6 big goals that must be achieved in order to reach the clouds?  Are the bulk of your activities, efforts, and people aligned to achieve these few, but very important goals?  In every organization there really are only a few things that matter.  However, many organizations/divisions/departments experience “mission creep,” and end up attempting much more than they can feasibly do well.  Much like the Pareto Principle (the 80/20 rule), organizations reach the clouds when they strengthen their ability to focus on a few key, highest priority goals and are willing to discontinue other activities and priorities.  Having goal discipline and gaining distinction via one or a few goals provides a halo effect for the entire organization.
  • Budget.  Do both the annual process for creating the budget and the budget itself reflect the ‘in the clouds’ goal?  There is an old saying, “show me your checkbook, and I’ll tell you what you value.”  If you plan to reach the clouds from the ground, your financial resources must be aligned with that goal.  Instead of starting your annual budget process as you have every other year, take the opportunity to institute a new process which will ensure that resources will be spent on people, programs, and priorities which will lead to landing in the clouds.

People, discipline, and budgets.  If these rungs are strengthened over time, you will reach goals and find your organization in the rarified air of the clouds.


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