“Control your destiny or someone else will” – Jack Welch

You might have experienced this: when coming back to work after the holidays, there is already a big stack of “things” waiting to be processed, despite of all efforts to clean up and complete all pending tasks by year’s end. Starting the new year with high ambitions and a high backlog is not a good combination. It makes it too easy to lose sight of what we want to achieve, climbing back into the hamster wheel that we gladly left before the holidays. Now is not only the time to battle the backlog, but also the perfect time to remember Jack Welch’s words, looking ahead and creating the Roadmap that will control your destiny in 2016.

Roadmaps and budgets define the action ahead

In business, controlling your destiny means translating general strategies into specific plans – roadmaps and budgets. A good plan defines a set of targets and the scope of action that will be used to achieve them, but allows a degree of freedom for individual invention and a degree of flexibility for dealing with the unexpected. It is especially important at this point to keep the targets tight and clear, because you don’t want a vague laundry list of action items that doesn’t add up to a definite result.

Define the targets first, the strategic activities next

In Japan, this process is called Hoshin Kanri or “management by compass.” The compass provides the direction (where to go) and the roadmap defines the path (how to get there). The Hoshin Kanri method uses a planning tool called an X-Matrix that breaks down the high-level breakthrough objectives (which might take several years to accomplish) into annual roadmaps. Examples of such breakthrough objective are launching a new product line, acquiring and integrating another business, going through university to become a medical doctor, or getting married and starting a family. You don’t accomplish any of those goals quickly or in one or two steps. Hoshin Kanri roadmaps are based on the proven sequence of Plan–Do–Check–Act (PDCA) that many great business leaders recommend.

We become what we have planned (or failed to plan)

An ambitious target is like a vision or a dream of what could be – this is why the great business leaders of our time are known as “visionaries.” But it can’t just be a vision or a dream – that is only the starting point. It’s also important to anchor our vision to the ground of reality to have a fair chance to succeed. Like any effective target, breakthrough objectives must therefore be SMART – specific, measurable, agreed, realistic, and timely – a practice that identifies obstacles and eliminates excuses for not acting. From this long-term objective, our SMART dream, we can now define the milestones on the way there, and make these into medium-term goals as part of an annual plan (“Plan”). Breaking our progress down into monthly deliverables makes the plan tangible and actionable (“Do”). Because progress is measured at least monthly (“Check”), we’ll get regular feedback in form of small successes that keep us motivated, and we’ll also notice gaps early on that will help us make necessary course corrections (“Act”) to stay on track.

Are you ready? Formalize your dreams now

Winners always have a plan; make sure you have one too. Creating such a plan does not take a lot of time, just a few hours if you know what you want and have some initial ideas about how to get it. If you haven’t worked that all out yet, then start with an empty roadmap template and fill in the blanks gradually as you brainstorm. I know that for me, the process of writing not only captures thoughts, it actually produces them. An empty page (no plan) makes me feel uncomfortable, so I have to fill it with content. The blank template is a trigger mechanism for many people to start developing a plan.

Download templates to get started

To help our clients take control of their future, we have compiled simple Excel templates for strategy deployment (X-Matrix), operations planning (Roadmap), and performance tracking (Scorecard). You can use those templates to get better results at work and also in your personal life. And in case you haven’t yet made any long-term plans, you can start with just this new year, creating the roadmap to achieve your ambitions for the next twelve months. The QUICK START KIT includes the ROADMAP & SCORECARD templates; you can download them from Leanmap.com/Tools. To assess the organizational health and maturity level of your business, complete the online audit at Leanmap.com/Benchmarking. For more help, get the LEAN AUDIT guidebook at Leanmap.com/Lean-Audit-Book.

I’d be happy to get feedback about your experiences in taking control of your destiny!