I recently observed a government organisation setup a project to create a 20 year strategic plan.

The question I asked was, “Is a 20 year timeframe proximal enough?”

For most businesses a one to three year horizon for strategy makes sense and when organisations ask us at HCG about the longer term, we offer them scenario planning, where a series of possible stories about the future are created and added to the executive’s ongoing vocabulary to help them take advantages of opportunities as they arise and address threats before it’s too late.

An important question to ask when considering strategy is, “are the goal posts proximal enough?”

JFK’s stated and audacious goal in 1961 of landing a “man on the moon within a decade”, while seemingly beyond the comprehension of the average person, was indeed a well-informed proximal strategic objective. The space race was understood by those inside government and by July 1969, this goal was realised.

When in 1971, Nixon declared a poorly understood “War of Drugs”, no matter how desirable it might have been, it was not and still is not a proximal objective. The then and present legal and law-enforcement framework is still way too ineffective and corrupt for this goal to be realised and public opinion and leadership today is such, that this failed strategic idea will continue to fail.

The best leaders create worthy proximal objectives – ones that are well understood and close enough at hand to be feasible. Proximal strategies offer organisations targets that are likely to be hit or even exceeded.  Indeed strategies that are feasible, motivate action and aid in organisational focus and drive.

We doubt very much that giving a certain government employees a job description based on a 20 year goal will motivate them. Perhaps it will offer them job security?