I doubt he meant to be giving business tips when Louis Carol wrote Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland in 1865, but this exchange between Alice and the Cheshire Cat is quite instructive.
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?” asked Alice.
“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.
“—so long as I get SOMEWHERE,” Alice added as an explanation.
“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”
That’s one smart cat. It turns out that the most important thing about getting where you want to go is knowing where you want to be. In business, this is called a strategy. Without one, tactics are trivial.
A deliberate journey, or aimless wandering?
Most business leaders would tell you that they have a strategy, but if you walked around the office or factory floor and asked the front line workers about it, in many cases you will be met with a blank stare, or worse, a description of the strategy that is very different from what the leader tells you. This begs two questions:
Why does it matter?
What difference does it make if frontline employees understand the larger strategy of the business? They don’t generally forge partnerships, make decisions about product offerings, or manage the budget. Shouldn’t they just focus on doing their job and let the executives handle the strategic stuff?
There are a few reasons why this kind of thinking is a mistake. Every person in an organization makes small decisions every day that can have an impact on achieving the company’s goals. There are always conflicting priorities. When everyone understands the strategic direction, these choices become much easier to make. It is also much easier to remain engaged and emotionally invested if you feel connected to the mission. You want a team that is showing up for more than just a paycheck. You want people working together toward a common achievement. Shared goals are essential to a healthy culture.
Why is there a disconnect?
So if you buy into the fact that a shared mission is important, the next question is why is it so rare. In many cases, it is because the strategy is developed, but never deployed in a meaningful way. A document may be shared or a meeting might be held, but the strategy never takes root in the day to day activities of the organization.
The approach known is Hoshin Kanri, which means direction management in Japanese, is an effective strategy deployment process that involves the people who actually do the work in the development of individual, team, and department goals that align with the 3 to 5 -year breakthrough objectives of the company. The strategic direction then becomes part of how each person’s performance is evaluated.
George Harrison concurred with the Cheshire Cat in song … “And if you don't know where you're going, Any road will take you there.” With or without strategy deployment, you’re sure to get somewhere. If you’d prefer to arrive at a specific place, it pays to devote the time and energy to making sure that everyone in the building knows where it is and how to get there.