[Editor's Note: The decision to become an extraordinary company is not coincidence or happenstance. Rather it is a conscious choice. Shouldn't you be great at what you do? Shouldn't you decide to become the company your customers can't live without? Some companies have remained defensive, chastened by the shock of the early pandemic months. I thought this article that I first published several years ago was appropriate for these times. -dpm]
Author and speaker Joe Calloway opens many of his presentations with a story from the movie Apollo 13: "The movie opens with a gathering of astronauts to watch Neal Armstrong who is about to become the first human being to walk on the moon. As we hear Armstrong's immortal words, 'One small step for man; one giant leap for mankind,' the mood becomes quiet, even reverential. ...Shortly after the broadcast, the party breaks up and everyone goes their separate ways, Jim Lovell, who is played by Tom Hanks, is alone with his wife, Marilyn in their backyard. Looking up at the moon, Lovell says, 'From now on, we live in a world where man has walked on the moon. It's not a miracle. We just decided to go."
Calloway makes the point that the first step that great companies make is the deliberate decision to pursue greatness. Many organizations talk about change. Sometimes companies will orchestrate management retreats, spending two or three days at some resort developing great ideas in a sea of flip chart paper and white boards. Six months later, everyone wonders, "What happened to those great ideas we had."
Strategic Planning without a "Decision to GO" is a waste of time
Decide to go... or go home. Strategic planning without a "decision to go" is a waste of time. You might think it peculiar that a company like ours would make such a statement. After all, The Mead Consulting Group helps companies develop and execute strategy. But, after more than 35 years helping companies, we have learned that it is the commitment to ACTION that determines success. "Deciding to go" is the biggest differentiator among companies.
What many people don't know (or likely are too young to remember) is that when President John F. Kennedy made the statement in May 1961 that the U.S. would put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, it was simply not another political speech. He rallied support in all sectors of government and the country. He helped us all see that this was a major commitment that was worthy of our time, resources, and commitment. He helped us "decide to go." You might say that President Kennedy created what Jim Collins ("Good to Great") calls a BHAG - a Big Hairy Audacious Goal.
Processes Institutionalize commitment
Motivating the populace was just the start. We needed processes and plans to achieve such a feat. After all, at the time of Kennedy's statement, the U.S. space program had not even managed to orbit the earth. To speak of going to the moon struck some as an impossible task. It would have been an impossible task if significant changes were not put in place. NASA and the other key organizations worked together to put organizations, plans, people, and processes in place.
Research shows that not a day went by that at President Kennedy did not inquire about some facet of this commitment - notes to the Vice President about funding from Congress, encouraging commitment to math and science education, speeches to keep the issue in front of the American people - making us all feel proud to play a part in this journey.
Along the way, it became OUR goal. It was the processes and daily commitment of many people - at all levels - that made it work. Kennedy was alive for only the first 1000 days of the journey. During that time he helped us make this BHAG ours. Then we took it the rest of the way.
Become the best at what you do
Organizations define themselves - set their own limits. Leadership helps paint the picture for greatness. It is too easy for small and mid-size companies to say that "we're only a small company" or "we sell undifferentiated, unglamorous products." With that attitude, why bother getting out of bed in the morning. A mentor of mine once told me, "There are no boring jobs, only boring people." What he meant was that people need to be inspired. If you have an undifferentiated product or service, whose fault is that? Do something to transform the customer experience.
Develop a big goal. Then go make it happen. The successful companies are focused on the daily details to accomplish that big goal. Everyone wants to be part of something great.
Become the best at what you do - whatever it is. Make the Decision to Go!