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What DOES Future Success Actually Look Like?  It Matters a Lot.

What does future success look like?  It seems like a simple question.  Yet, this is not a simple question for many midmarket firms. When the business was small, future success looked like a bigger version of the present.  But as the firm grew, it added new products and services and entered new markets. Perhaps it acquired another business or changed owners.  It found legacy customers no longer driving new growth, the competitive landscape more contested, investment requirements greater, and costs of failure higher. 

Odds are leadership is wrestling with multiple pathways of future success and may feel quite uncertain about how best to proceed.

This uncertainty has costs.  It slows decision-making, taxes resources, and degrades commitment.  When the desired future is unclear, leadership teams often risk:   

  • Greater Indecision: Teams struggle to decide growth priorities and find it a challenge to choose between competing options. Decisions, especially hard ones, get put off. 

  • Rising Frustration: Team members feel frustrated when significant effort is put into initiatives that are then discarded. 

  • More Distractions: When indecision grows, teams are tempted to focus on “shiny objects,” distracting everyone and wasting time and resources.  

  • Weakening Commitment: Leadership may lack commitment to initiatives when there is not agreement about what’s important and what’s not important.    

  • Lower Accountability: Accountability often suffers when there is no single plan from which to be held accountable. 

Fortunately, when the leadership team aligns around what future success looks like and the path towards that success, these risks get smaller.  Decision making becomes easier, and the team gets more engaged and focused.  Commitment grows and so does accountability.  Getting the leadership team to a common vision about the firm’s future is key.  

As shared in our post Building Your Growth GAMEPlan – The Shepherd Way, the Shepherd GAMEPlan system has three Steps:   

In this post, we focus on Step 1. Set Destination of Shepherd's GAMEPlan process. In this step we work with management to first develop a clear understanding of business today ("Current Realities"), and next create a single vision of the future ("Desired future"). In setting destination, we gain clarity and alignment around the core capabilities and unique value the company offers along with the key trends and competitive environment that impact growth. We use this knowledge as the foundation to then craft a forward-looking vision for the business.    

How do we do this?  We start by earning management’s trust as we work with them to get a well-rounded view of the firm's Current Realities and the critical factors that drive growth.  Then we ensure everyone has a common understanding of these realities and their implications for growth.    

Through interviews, analysis, and research, we work with management to build a single unified story of the firm that:  

  • Differentiates markets utilizing market trends and dynamics that will shape future growth prospects.

  • Segregates customers by markets to drive understanding of segment sales, top customers by market, and those customers driving growth today.

  • Outlines the firm’s Strengths (“Superpowers”), Weaknesses (“What’s holding the firm back”), Opportunities (“Options going forward”), and Threats (“Torpedoes") related to accelerating growth.

  • Describes why the firm wins, its value propositions by customer segment and its competitive landscape by market.

  • Captures Insights & Wisdoms about growth the firm has learned.

This is a powerful process that provides the team with a comprehensive understanding of how the business works and how it can grow.  For some team members, they get to hear and understand a single integrated story of their company for the first time.  We help everyone on the team understand how the firm adds value and to whom, what markets offer the strongest growth potential based upon size and trends, and where the competitive environment provides the greatest chance for success.    

With a common understanding of the firm’s current realities in hand, management can turn to the future and tackle the crucial strategic question, “What does success look like?”     

Having a unified and agreed upon understanding of what is true today provides a foundation to guide the team’s Desired Future.  As with Current Realities, the aim is to develop a single compelling vision of future success that the management team develops and buys into.  The process we use for this is built around our North S.T.A.R. tool.*  This tool walks the team step by step to:  

  • Anchor their thinking around the firm’s Strengths and key market Trends.    

  • Capture their Aspirations, their most desired future outcomes.

  • Identify specific Results that demonstrate achieving these aspirations.    

By creating a single vision of success grounded in the team’s desirable future, we establish clear and measurable goals the team agrees will drive them forward and identify benefits the team and company will realize as these goals are achieved.  

This process integrates current realities and future aspirations into a single vision of success that is within the team’s reach. Perhaps for the first time, the team is aligned around a common vision for where they want to take the business, and what it will take to achieve it. 


Privately held companies tend to follow the entrepreneur’s direction and do what he says to do. What Shepherd does is shift management’s focus from the entrepreneur’s direction to the company’s strategy, so the company develops an identity beyond the entrepreneur, "beyond do what he says". 

Scott Gordon, CFO, Amlon Group

We find that a powerful future vision of success – a vision that continually energizes future execution - is not conjured quickly.  It is revealed through deliberate and sensitive processes that first get everyone clear about “Where we are,” and then mold a common vision for “where we really want to go – and why!”     

This also sets the baseline that drives Step 2. Strategize of Shepherd's GAMEPlan process. We now have important strategic guardrails in place as the team considers different growth pathways that leverage the firm’s competencies and value proposition, exploit markets based on the size of opportunity and trends, and provide a clear competitive position for future success.   

We will explore Step 2 in detail in a future post.  Stay tuned!

  * Our North S.T.A.R. tool is a derivation of the powerful S.O.A.R. tool developed by Dr. Jackie Stravos at Lawrence Technological University  



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