Three fundamental questions any leader must answer

Running a successful business requires leaders to answer many questions – every day – even in the face of uncertainty.  Questions deal with daily operations, budgeting, crisis management, inquiry by parents, crisis management, hiring enough staff.

Amidst all these questions, there are three that are so fundamental that they provide a framework for your organization as a whole.

The three fundamental questions are:

  1. Where are we going?
  2. How will we get there?
  3. How will we know we have arrived?

Answering the three fundamental questions aligns all members of your organization by creating clarity around what matters.

Most likely, you have asked these questions – at least informally.  You might even have answered them for yourself.

The answers to these questions don’t have to be very complicated.  In fact, the simpler they are, the better everyone in your business will understand them.

Answering the three fundamental questions provides clarity for your organization

While these questions seem simple, the answers are very powerful.  In fact, running an effective organization requires you and your leadership team to wrestle with these questions – and then communicate the answers throughout you organization.

Dr Dale Brethower, my doctoral advisor at Western Michigan University and the father of behavioral systems analysis, used to say, “If YOU don’t provide the answers, people will hallucinate them.”   They come up with their own answers and behave in ways that are consistent with those answers.  But that might not be consistent with YOUR answers and lead to inefficiency and dysfunction.

How do I answer these questions?

The best way to arrive at the answers to these three fundamental questions with your leadership team in a deliberate and structured way.  (If your organization has a board of directors, include them as well.)

Where are we going? 

Answer with compelling mission and vision statements.

The mission statement describes the purpose – why your organization exists and what benefits it provides for the people you serves.  It is a foundation for everything you do to provide first-class services.  The vision statement articulates the desired future state of your organization.  This is the direction you want all team members to go.  It is the super goal that aligns your improvement activities

How will we get there?

Answer with your long-term goals and practical strategies.

The goals are long-term mini-visions that typically span across the domains of customer, processes, learning/development/innovation, and finances.  They are the result of your strategy formulation and specify tangible results.  For strategies to be actionable, they need to have clear target dates and be assigned to owners or leads.

How will we know we have arrived?

Answer with your high-level measures of success or key performance indicators (KPIs).

Measures of success help you track progress toward your goals and your vision.  While you may track other operational and clinical submetrics, the KPIs are the critical few metrics that give you a clear picture of the health of your organization.

Communicate your answers

Avoid a major pitfall of strategy execution by making sure the answers to the three fundamental questions are not your company’s best-kept secret.  Share them throughout the organization and keep them alive through regular updates on progress.  Stories about how staff live the mission and vision are great ways to help everyone understand how what they do on a daily basis contributes to the wellbeing of your clients and your business.

Want to get a health check on your mission and vision?  Schedule a free 30-minute strategy call and I’ll be happy to review them with you and tweak them as necessary.