by Margaret Lukens, New Leaf + Company LLC
Plans, like water, work best when they flow.
In a cascade, the overarching vision informs the mission, which feeds the goals, which translate into action steps. In information management, this is known as a taxonomy cascade. The logical connection from broader classifications to more specific ones makes clear for both the “big picture people” and the detail-oriented ones what the team is aiming for and how it intends to get there.
Confusion enters when people use words differently — is the vision the biggest thing, or just an intermediate one? Is a goal different from an objective? What’s the difference between a vision and a mission?
The taxonomy can be simple or complex. There are plans that include eight or more steps in the taxonomy cascade, for example:
Purpose > Vision > Mission > Goals > Objectives > Strategies > Tactics > Tasks
Military plans represent some of the most complex plans known to humanity, from the big vision (create a French empire that spans all of Europe) to the intermediate goals (conquer Russia) to the strategies that make it possible (undertake the first modern mass conscription) all the way down to the tasks (start marching east).
For most smaller organizations, I find a five-step plan usually works well. Here’s the taxonomy cascade I suggest most often:
Vision > Mission > Goals > Strategies > Tasks
What do the terms mean? Here’s a way of thinking about plans that I find useful.
Vision: You may never reach this happy state, but it is your beacon, the situation you are forever moving toward. No numbers yet. And no time limit – it may take forever.
Mission: What do your customers expect of you every time they interact with you? What do you promise to provide?
Goals: These are usually measurable. They have to do with numbers of clients, hours, dollars, percentages. They also have time limits.
Strategies: How will you reach those goals, above? You could meet your revenue goal by selling a million things at $1 or one thing for $1,000,000. You could focus on high-quality or low-cost. You may reach for C-level executives or mid-level managers or the millions of people who make up the bottom of the pyramid. Which will it be?
Tasks: What are the steps needed to carry out the strategies you chose? What will happen this year? How – and by whom! – will those strategies be executed?
As you create your plans, make sure that each step is connected to those above and below. Check for internal consistency. Make it flow.
(Art: Napoleon Crossing the Alps by Jacques-Louis David, 1801, now in the museum at Malmaison, image courtesy of Wikipedia. I have donated to Wikipedia; if you have found Wikipedia valuable as I have, I encourage you to consider supporting them, too!)