More than halfway through 2016, strategic planning season is upon us. It's time to pull out the bold statements and dust off the metrics matrix to gauge how much closer we've come to realizing our organization's vision for the year 2020.

Back at the start of the current decade, the year 2020 emerged as an iconic date with an inescapable allure for nearly every corporation and nonprofit - the perfect target date for the next strategic plan.

For example, Coca-Cola outlined a six-part "2020 Vision" that focused on People, Portfolio, Partners, Planet, Profit and Productivity to ensure future success. The City of New York's Department of Planning outlined an ambitious development plan for the city in their "Vision 2020," while the Wildlife Conservation Society pushed for faster change that keeps pace with a rapidly shifting world in their "2020 Strategy." And Johnson & Johnson got in on the action as well, laying out "Citizenship & Sustainability 2020 Goals" that seek to build a new vision of health that leads to healthier people everywhere.

In short, thousands of strategic planning teams seized upon the same Vision 2020 concept and put a stamp on the calendar to set their goal line.

But if asked today, could you explain exactly how your organization determined that your strategic goals should all be achieved by 2020? Did you see a great market opportunity on the horizon that would close by that date? Was your team inspired by 2020 to drive your latest product development to new heights by that time?

More often than not, it turns out 2020 is... just a date, albeit, a memorable one. (And we can all appreciate the play on words of "Vision 2020.") But basing strategic goals on something as arbitrary as a sexy number can be hazardous. As the date creeps closer, how do you determine if your strategy is off course? Here are three key factors for you to consider:

The vision itself isn't defined clearly enough.

What was the inspiration behind choosing 2020 as your target date to start with? If there wasn't more rationale than "because it's a nice, round number," then it's more than likely your future vision is somewhat detached from your target date - and that can pose problems. By focusing on an arbitrary point in time, your leadership team may "cop out" on establishing a clear path forward to achieving your desired success by 2020. Don't let the allure of the date overshadow the vision itself. To be actionable, your vision for what you want the organization to become can't be amorphous, general or vague. It needs to be specific, actionable and inspirational.

Your people have lost sight of the vision, or weren't sufficiently engaged to begin with.

The less well defined your vision is, the harder it will be to get and keep people engaged and energized to accomplish your goals. But equally important is ensuring the vision you've defined is relevant throughout the entire timeframe you've laid out, and that it deeply inspires and motivates many, many people to take action. People need to see how their day-to-day efforts culminate in 2020 success. If you'll be ready to launch your new product next year, a future vision pegged to 2020 doesn't make much sense. In many cases, the "Vision 2020" now hangs in the background of conversations, rather than serving as the focal point that guides strategy and sets the organizational mindset.

Focus on the finish line distracts from the need to ensure results are sustainable in the long-term.

Staying laser-focused on the end results shouldn't distract from celebrating incremental wins along the way. There is a behavioral tendency when setting a long-term goal to only keep an eye on the endpoint, seeing it as the ultimate mark of success or failure. We often don't fully assess how well we've done against our goals until the very end... and then wonder why people aren't demonstrating engagement and enthusiasm throughout the effort. Take care to validate and encourage the smaller successes along the path that are what ultimately make the larger change sustainable into the future. In fact, shifts in mindset and behavior--all required to achieve a bold vision--take time and repetition to solidify. We must work on these changes every day. We are short-changing our efforts if we wait until the end to celebrate (or to raise the white flag).

How do you get your Vision 2020 back on track and avoid these pitfalls? Start by speaking directly to your people. If the goals you set way back when have shifted, don't be afraid to adjust course accordingly. Sometimes the time horizon is too short. But just as often, your goals turn out not to have been ambitious enough to begin with. Challenge yourself and your team to start a movement within your organization to achieve a shared vision - together. You may find your stretch goals are closer than you think or that you can become greater than you'd even imagined - by 2020, 2018, 2023, or whatever date makes sense for your organization.

Published on: Aug 24, 2016