Mission 3 - 2 - 1

Mission Control 3—2—1

Three steps to help your organization’s mission and strategy take flight.

By Dawn Wiese

Mission 3-2-1

This summer is the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, and although most of us aren’t sending astronauts to space every day, I often think about the parallels between the U.S. space program and how organizations work.  They are more similar than you might think. If your organization has a big project coming up, is at a fork in the road, or just wants to be more effective, take a note from us (and from NASA) using these three steps to align your mission and strategy.

To say that putting something in space is highly complex is an understatement.  It requires the most detailed of details.  My Dad (an aerospace engineer) once explained propulsion to me: “A controlled explosion is not just about hitting that dock you can see in the distance,” he said, pointing at a dock about a half-mile away on a lake. “It’s about hitting the head of the third nail on the fourteenth board on the dock.” 

And while strategy in most organizations does not require that level of precision, there are some important similarities. In organizational strategy, these three steps can make the difference between simply launching a rocket and setting foot on the moon.

3. It All Starts With Mission

Strategy should always start with an organization’s mission. If it doesn’t, the proposed venture is outside the scope of an organization, or inconsistent with the organization’s mission.  In the case of NASA, the mission/vision is simple: “to discover and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.” So, whether it’s a manned space exploration or launching a satellite, any new venture within the space program should dovetail with that mission.

This may seem simple, but when people start brainstorming new ideas or activities that sound “neat,” a fun, new idea can push the strategic plan to the backseat. An organization’s mission should remain front and center during all strategy sessions; otherwise, you may start going in the wrong direction.

2. Have a Plan

(Preferably, before you begin.)

To make sure you achieve your goals efficiently and in a reasonable amount of time, an organization’s strategy should follow a plan. Can you imagine if we sent astronauts to space with no plan for how to get them back?

While there are many definitions of a strategic plan, the simplest definition is that it’s a plan that outlines an organization’s strategy. There is no one way to do a strategic plan, and there are many frameworks that strategic planning experts use.  My favorite is G-O-S-T. (Goals, Objectives, Strategies, and Tactics)

Goal: The “big picture” aim or direction for the plan. Try to set between 3 to 5 goals.

Ex – Win the space race.

Objectives: Visible outcomes to help you measure your goals.

Ex – Land an astronaut on the moon. (A tangible, measurable way to know that you’re a step closer to winning the space race.)

Strategy: Broad steps for achieving your objectives. Strategies in a strategic plan explain how you go about achieving an objective.

Ex – Inspire public sentiment to send an astronaut to the moon.

Ex – Prioritize NASA needs in order to win the space race.

Tactics: Specific tasks that, once completed, fulfill your strategy. This is the point at which you’re hitting the head of the third nail on the fourteenth board.  These are the steps needed to complete the Strategies.

Ex – Include putting an astronaut on the moon as a presidential call to action.

Ex – Locate funding for NASA projects and missions.

1. Follow Your Course

In space, going off course can be disastrous. And, if there’s a point at which organizations are most likely to fail in their strategic planning, it’s in this step—sticking to the plan. Time and time again we hear about organizations that allow day-to-day operations to overshadow their plan to advance their goals. The plan gets set aside (“just for now”) and then never resumed. This is about priorities and willpower. Once you’ve gone through the work of identifying your mission, aligning your goals, and creating a strategic plan, stay the course.

You may not be trying to send an astronaut to space this year, but your organization’s goals are just as important to you and your stakeholders. Getting these three steps right can be the difference between simple goal setting and one giant leap. 

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