Driving change Featured

8:00pm EDT April 25, 2007
My father drives home the value of long-term planning every day. And I’m not talking about some speech about goal-setting; he literally drives it. “It” is a Lexus, the luxury brand of Toyota Motor Corp.

The car is the culmination of a company seeing a chance to dominate a market and setting goals to achieve it. In the 1980s, Toyota had what were considered good near-luxury cars in the Cressida and Crown models, but sales were not especially strong when compared to how fast Corollas and Camrys were leaving dealer lots. Lincoln and Cadillac had both fallen from grace, Chrysler had moved down market, Mercedes quality was not at its high point and Audi was suffering from the stuck accelerator debacle.

In short, Toyota saw an opportunity to dominate a market. It assigned a team of 1,400 engineers, 2,300 technicians, 60 designers and 220 support people to create the next great luxury vehicle under the Lexus brand. The company built 450 functional prototypes, and no expense was spared to beat the competition, and in 1989, the first Lexus hit the showroom floor. Its high level of luxury and reliability — and lower cost than some competing brands — made it the leader in luxury vehicles.

By creating a vision and a plan to get there, Toyota created a dominant brand. It’s been almost 20 years now, but thanks to long-term planning and commitment, the brand is still as vibrant as ever.

There are four key tracks to executing a plan to achieve your goals.

The immediate track. These are objectives that range from today to about six months out. This is all about focusing on what you are doing today to work toward your overall goal, achieving short-term objectives to give you a headstart on your longer-term goals. There will always be a lot of distractions, but you have to stay focused.

The short-term track. This track is about focusing on processes six to 18 months out. How can you do things faster and better? Where can you build efficiency into your systems?

The long-term track. This track is setting goals for where you really want to be in three to five years. These goals are bigger in scope and start filling in the pieces to your long-term vision. The more of these goals you achieve, the closer you get to realizing your vision.

The vision. This is your long-term vision that is at least five years away. What’s the ultimate goal of your company? It’s the proverbial carrot on a stick that you are always chasing. As you move to-ward it, it moves even further, driving you to try even harder and achieve more.

This sounds fairly simple, and you may already have plans that fall into these ranges, but the real trick is working all the plans simultaneously. Toyota worked on all these tracks simultaneously to build Lexus into what it is today.

Companies that aren’t as successful tend to be good at working only one or two tracks at a time.

Some companies have great vision and know where they want to be in five years, but don’t know how to work the day-to-day detail in the short term to get there. It’s sort of like a person who dreams of traveling to Europe one day but spends more time dreaming rather than actually figuring out a way to save the money and plan the trip.

Others are good at achieving intermediate goals such as growing sales, but they never really set a vision for what they want the company to be. Sales continue to grow, but to what end?

Toyota could have kept selling the luxury cars it had and probably been fairly successful. Instead, the company had a vision to be a leader in a market segment and set a course to get there by creating a new brand that would set the standard.

The key is to work all four tracks of the plan simultaneously so that you hit your short-term, intermediate and long-term goals on the way to achieving your ultimate vision of what you want your company to become.

FRED KOURY is president and CEO of Smart Business Network Inc. Reach him with your comments at (800) 988-4726 or fkoury@sbnonline.com.