Have you ever heard the following statement?:

“If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up the men to gather wood, divide the work and give orders. Instead, teach them to yearn for the vast and endless sea.”

It’s a quotation from the French writer Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, and Adam Bryant—The New York Times bestselling author and “Corner Office” columnist—included it in his latest book, Quick And Nimble, as an analogy for the impact a compelling and well-communicated company mission can have on employees and customers.

David Sacks

David Sacks, founder of Yammer. Image credit: Wikiepdia.org

“Every good company has a very strong mission statement,” said David Sacks, the founder, chairman, and then-CEO of Yammer, a social network service for business, in an interview with Bryant.

However, a mission statement alone isn’t going to do much. You also need to have a plan that supports that mission statement. Bryant says that a company also needs “a simple plan that everybody understands, so they can see the clear link between the work they do and how it drives those goals.”

(Sacks, by the way, is now the corporate VP in Microsoft’s Office Division; Microsoft acquired Yammer back in July 2012 for $1.2 billion.)

What are the Components of a Simple Plan?

After you have a solid mission statement that resonates with your employees, and gives them hope of solving a real-world problem, then you’re ready to build out a simple plan for growth.

Three seems to be the magic number when it comes to developing goals for your company. However, there’s no hard-and-fast rule about how many goals you should have. It’s really more about making sure they are clear and measurable.

One reason why having only a few goals is key is because they will be easier to remember, and therefore easier to act upon. Joseph Jimenez, CEO of Novartis, believes that “if you can’t hold something in your head, then you’re not going to be able to internalize it and act on it.”

The 100-Day Plan: Fahrenheit 212

Bryant included an example in his book of how one company creates a simple plan: Fahrenheit 212, a consulting firm based in New York and London that helps companies create growth through innovation.

Fahrenheit 212’s CEO, Geoff Vuleta, says he likes to measure work over 100-day stretches.

Vuleta believes that when leading a group of people you need to be able to “build loyalty beyond reason,” and that “everybody wants to be led.” He told Bryant in an interview that employees “want to know two things. They want to know what they should be doing, and they want to know that what they’re doing is important. And you must, therefore, set up an environment in which they totally trust that.”

Fahrenheit 212 gathers as a group every 100 days, and develops a list of what they’d like to accomplish together in the next 100 days. This helps each person in the company know exactly how they will contribute to the company’s bottom line. What’s great about a planning model like this is that everyone is held accountable to the items they are tasked with accomplishing. If they don’t achieve those goals, they need to explain why, and figure out how to move forward.

There are two things I really like about this 100-day plan. The first is that the plan not only contains goals for the individual and the company, but it also contains personal growth goals. After all, if you’re not working on improving yourself, how can you expect to improve the company that employs you? The second is that it allows for failure. As Vuleta puts it, “You’ve got to allow time for people to feel the pain of getting something wrong. And when you create a competitive environment that has total transparency like we do, you won’t do it twice. You just won’t.”

Read along and watch our April 2014 webinar here.

Culture Tip of the Week from Adam:

Adam Bryant, author of Quick and NimbleUnless a leader creates shared goals across an organization, an organization will be a series of silos.” – @davidrock101 #QuickAndNimble

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Caroline CummingsCaroline Cummings

An entrepreneur. A disruptor. An advocate. Caroline has been the CEO and co-founder of two tech startups—one failed and one she sold. She is passionate about helping other entrepreneurs realize their full potential and learn how to step outside of their comfort zones to catalyze their growth. Caroline is currently executive director of Oregon RAIN. She provides strategic leadership for the organization’s personnel, development, stakeholder relations, and community partnerships. In her dual role as the venture catalyst manager, Cummings oversees the execution of RAIN’s Rural Venture Catalyst programs. She provides outreach and support to small and rural communities; she coaches and mentors regional entrepreneurs, builds strategic local partnerships, and leads educational workshops.