Which way should I go?

Lewis Carroll’s masterpiece Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland contains a pithy message for all organisational executives. Alice is lost and encounters the Cheshire Cat sitting in a tree.ccat

Alice:  “Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here.”

That depends a good deal on where you want to get to.” said the cat.

I don’t much care where.” said Alice.

Then it doesn’t matter which way you go.” said the cat.

I often use this quotation as a means of focusing managers on the essential necessity of being very clear about where they want to take their organisations. Equally, I impress upon them that it is not enough for them to know what the end goal is, they must also be able to articulate it to the rest of the organisation.

Once, in a strategic planning workshop involving Board members, I was challenged by “old Bob” who had been around the Board table for many years and who growled impatiently that “all this strategic planning stuff is just rubbish”. He snorted, “If we just keep doing well, the things we are already doing, we will get where we want to go”

“Oh!” I responded, ” And where will that be when you get there?”

He stared at me with an angry brow for a moment, blinked once or twice and then his large moustache curled up at the ends in a bashful grin. “I see what you mean. If I can’t bring to mind straight away the words to describe our ultimate aim, then it can’t really be completely clear even to me, can it?”

We then spent some time talking about how complex organisational goals might be communicated clearly and succinctly. We developed a few simple rules:

  • Turn complex vision into uncomplicated concepts.
  • Use plain language.
  • Use easy to remember mental images or symbols.
  • Capture the essence of your vision in just a few words.
  • Show that you have a path to get to the end goal.
  • Find opportunities to repeat the message as often as possible to the people you expect to help you pursue your vision.
  • Be sure to convey your own enthusiasm whenever you talk about your vision.

As a leader of an organisation your people will expect that you not only know where you want to get to, but which road will get the organisation there most effectively.

At the end of Alice’s encounter with the Cheshire Cat her helpful adviser faded away altogether leaving just his grin. As I took leave of Old Bob, thankfully he was still grinning too.

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