Does your business have a theme for this year?

How do you get a team of people to rally around whatever’s most important in your business? How do you get everyone to understand and focus on what’s going to make a difference this year (or this quarter)?

One possibility is to use Thematic Goals as the foundation of your strategic planning process. The idea is simple. You identify 1 or 2 key themes that are going to have the biggest impact on your business and use those themes to align everyone and drive the goals, priorities and actions you need for success.

One way to think about this is to answer the question:

“This is the year our organization will _______!”

Typical answers might be something like – Grow… or if you’re coming out of a tough challenging time maybe it’s Survive. Whatever it is, that theme is then used to identify the top strategic goals for the time period (quarter, year, etc.). If your theme is Growth then your strategic goals might focus on increasing sales to new customers, increasing sales to existing customers, hiring new people, opening up a new location… there are lots of things that could fit the theme, but the foundational idea will help drive everything else.

Why do you need a theme?

I picked up on this idea when I was recently re-reading Patrick Lencioni’s book Obsessions of an Extraordinary Executive. As with most of Lencioni’s books, this is a business fable that compares two rival consulting companies. The more successful of the two owners has built his business on consistent use of 4 disciplines – simply described these are:

Be Cohesive (as a leadership team)

Be Clear (on who you are and what you do)


Reinforce (through hiring, reviews, bonuses, firing)

It’s a simple model (and the basis for Lencioni’s Organizational Health model that he writes about in The Advantage and other books). Although these might seem basic, the simplicity and the consistent application are the core to a great business.

Thematic goals falls under the 2nd Discipline – Create Organizational Clarity, which includes the overall purpose and values of a business as well as the strategic goals and planning.

A Lack of Focus?

Most businesses suffer from a lack of focus – sometimes because they’re too wrapped up in just dealing with the day to day challenges (Are you Living in the Whirlwind) and sometimes because they are trying to do too many things at once (everything is a top priority).

This is a pretty common theme / challenge in strategic planning – if you’re looking for additional source materials beyond Lencioni, this idea of lack of focus is also a core idea in the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution (Franklin Covey) and in Gino Wickman’s Traction books (Are you Clear on the Who and the What?)

Whatever the cause, this lack of focus makes it very difficult to get anything done. Here’s a quick test that might illustrate what I’m talking about – reach out to 5 people in your organization and ask each of them what the most important thing the company is doing this year. Did you get 3 different answers? 5? That’s a lack of focus.

That’s also where the Thematic goals come in. The beauty of a theme is that it’s simple, direct and concise. It’s easy to share and it’s easy for people to get. “This year we are all about growth – all of our strategic objectives are going to be about exactly how we want to grow the business.”

By choosing and communicating a theme you’ll drive alignment across all the different areas of the business.

And – maybe even more importantly, by choosing a theme you will have to choose what’s MOST important and by doing that, it’s a lot more likely that you’ll make progress in that area.

Note that theme doesn’t preclude you (and your team) from doing other things – if your theme is growth but you also need to implement a new accounting system, that’s okay. But for the most part, that theme should drive what people are focusing on.

How to get started…

This idea of picking a thematic goal might feel a bit overwhelming – especially if you’re used to setting goals in lots of different areas (or not setting them at all…). The problem with that scattered approach is that it makes it really hard for your team to truly prioritize their efforts and you get multiple people pushing in multiple directions – which results in limited progress on everything.

One way to get started on this idea would be to pick a quarterly theme (or maybe one for the 2nd half of the year). Let’s say that you know that your costs are too high and the theme for the quarter is cost reduction. Every area of your business can spend the next 3 to 6 months brainstorming and implementing ideas that will cut costs. Narrow it down to the top 3 (or so) ideas and get them implemented. Set a timeline for completion, find a way to easily measure success and then find a way to reward the team if they hit the target.

If they succeed – make sure to celebrate the success and then move on to a different theme for the next time period (rinse and repeat).

If they don’t succeed – make sure you pull everyone together to figure out what went wrong (not blame, just understanding) and then either recommit if it’s something that can be fixed or set your sights elsewhere and try again.

The idea is to make this concept of using thematic goals an ongoing discipline that will drive focus and alignment for your team – because that’s when amazing things can happen. Plus starting with some smaller quarterly themes can help get some quick wins and build momentum for the team. Everyone loves to make progress and this can become a clear way to do that for everyone.

What do you think? Does this idea resonate with you? Are you currently using a theme to drive focus for your team? We’d love to hear your thoughts – leave us a comment below.

Shawn Kinkade Kansas City Business Coach

1 thought on “Does your business have a theme for this year?”

  1. Curt Steinlage says:

    Great article and a foundation that a team can lean on when looking for inspiration or purpose to push thru!

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