Use the As-Is-&-To-Be Table to Clarify Strategic Initiative Vision

One effective technique for turning vision into results is to develop and populate a two-column As-Is-&-To-Be Table.  Put the phrase “As Is” at the top of the left-hand column and “To Be” at the top of the right-hand column.  The As Is column describes the present state of the organization’s process, culture, and capabilities.  The To Be column describes the future state; in other words, how the organization’s process, culture, and capabilities will appear in the future.

Encouraging Analysis of Vision and Needs

I used the As-Is-&-To-Be table with a company that had a floundering strategic initiative. The initiative’s purpose was re-engineering and automating process to strengthen the business model. It had lost sight of the strategic and customer focus.

Fortunately, several months prior to my involvement, the Chief Operating Officer had written a white paper that described his vision for the strategic initiative. Realizing that the initiative was floundering, he remembered and shared it. I saw an opportunity to use that white paper to help the team create the structure and scope that could re-energize the strategic initiative.

The nearby table shows two selected “As Is” elements from the COO’s white paper.  Since I could not find a complementary “To Be” vision, I placed question marks in the To Be column. Next I brought my analysis to the team and to the COO with the question,

What is the future state?  Is it to maintain a function, add a function, or increase performance of a function?

As Is

To Be

Our business model provides is a fantastic (life-changing) opportunity for a key stakeholder. A stakeholder might not understand this immediately and she might have other fantastic opportunities

? ?

Our onboarding process is perceived as difficult

? ?

Here is are condensed answers that the COO and the team generated for the “? ?:”

In the future, our offering continues to be a fantastic opportunity for stakeholders.
In this future state, the company will have a new state of operations that promotes faster understanding by the stakeholder of the benefits and onboarding process, and gives the stakeholder the ability to better assess the quality of this opportunity with respect to other opportunities.
Our practices and processes are defined and measurable. The desired performance goal is improvement over the “as is.” The ideal outcome would be qualitatively described as “as “simple, elegant, & delightful.”

Confirming the Gap and Identifying Hidden Best Practices

I also found numerous statements of vision in the COO’s white paper, many of which did not map to an “As Is” statement. For an example, see the two selected statements in the nearby graphic.  Both of the “To Be” statements show that the future state was more developed and sophisticated.

I asked, “Would you define the current “As Is” state at an ad hoc state of maturity?” The answer was, “Yes, and we need to provide a solution that establishes the needed structure.”

I also asked if there were any hidden best practices that the COO or other might not know about. My question stimulated several “ah ha moments,” because there were many
good practices but these were practices performed by a few exceptional individuals.  These were identified and documented as best practices inserted into the future state design.

As Is

To Be

? ?

We will actively encourage teachers to renew, not just send them a renewal “survey.”

? ?

We will have a more-refined definition of markets to include available market, potential market, etc.

Don’t Shy Away from the Future State

Business analysts often refer to As-Is-&-To-Be with the term gap analysis and others use it as part of developing a program blueprint.

In my experience, these analysts focus too much on the documentation of the present state and not enough on the future state.  Don’t misinterpret me: it is important to understand the “As Is.” My concern is that, in practice, analysts shy away from the ambiguity of the future and stay in the comfort zone of documenting the present. Consequently, analysis paralysis delays many strategic initiatives.

One of the most significant challenges for many leaders is dealing with the people who are uncomfortable with ambiguity.  The future is ambiguous, and that is why many people are reluctant to participate in vision-development exercises.

The leader’s job to bridge the gap between the concrete present and the ambiguous future.
The leader has to help people move out of their comfort zone and into the
learning zone.


About Greg Githens

Author, How to Think Strategically (2019) Executive and leadership coach. Experience in driving change in Fortune 500 and mid-size companies through strategic initiatives and business transformation. Seminar leader and facilitator - high-impact results in crafting and delivering strategy, strategic initiatives, program management, innovation, project management, risk, and capturing customer requirements.
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