Must Wins

Have you started working on your 2015 plans for your organization? If not, it’s probably time. Where should you begin? One approach is to determine what’s most critical for your organization to accomplish in the coming years.

I attended a meeting recently in which someone shared the “Must Wins” for their department. After listening for a few minutes, I realized, he was describing what I’ve historically called organizational priorities. His language is far better than mine. To describe something as a “Must Win” gives it importance and urgency.
Here’s a working definition of a “Must Win…”
A statement of strategic intent critical to the health and future success of your organization; substantive enough to require 12 – 60 months of focused attention and deserving of disproportionate time, energy and financial support.
A “Must Win” is not a tactic or a program, nor is it a goal – although there should be metrics established to monitor your progress. It is about closing gaps or seizing opportunities to fundamentally strengthen your organization.
Here are some examples:

We must improve our retention among hourly team members.

We must meet our quality requirements more consistently.

We must establish a successful west coast presence.

We must create products and services to reach new customers.

We must find new ways to reduce costs across all divisions.

We must increase repeat business from our existing customer base.

We must develop the business acumen of our people.

We must create a leadership culture.

How do you determine what your “Must Wins” should be? That will require a blend of research, hard work, heated debates and a good measure of leadership intuition.
Here are a few questions that may help…

  • If a new leadership team took over our organization today, what are the first three things they would do?
  • If this new leadership team were creating their 3-year plan, what would they deem most critical?
  • If you could eliminate one competitive threat over the next 36 months, what would we choose?
  • What could you do to create significant competitive advantage?
  • Where are we falling behind our competitors?
  • If you were not worried about the difficulty involved, what is the one strategic priority you would certainly embrace?
  • What is the most significant gap you need to address over the next 36 months in your organization?
  • What should you do if we want to fundamentally strengthen your organization for the next decade?
  • If you could only have one strategic initiative for the next 5 years, what would you choose? (You’re certainly not limited to one, but the thought you might be, should force some thoughtful conversations.)

These, and other questions like them, should always be on our mind. Not only are leaders the architects of the future, we set the strategic direction for our organizations. A successful organization cannot do everything – "Must Wins" help us know what we must do.
The future begins today![GLS_Shield]

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David Greer

8 years ago

Hi Mark,
The critical strategic question I also ask is:
"What major activity will you stop doing so you can achieve your next wins?"
Few of us really look hard at what we are doing as an organization and remove those things that are no longer aligned with our strategy.
P.s. Stopping is often harder than starting!


8 years ago

David, I think you've been reading my email. We talk a lot about what we can stop doing. The problem is, as you've stated, it's hard to stop! In my experience, leaders have to make these calls. The hard-working men and women doing the work rarely raise their hand and say, "I'm not sure we need to do this anymore." Leaders have to make the call. Unfortunatly, that doesn't necessarily make it any easier. One of my favorite books of all time is Necessary Endings by Henry Cloud. If you've not read it, I highly recommend it. We distributed several thousand copies to our leaders. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

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Perry Smith

8 years ago

An alternate view would be, an new leadership team comes in and your let go. What would you look back on and wish you have done? If you have ever been in a situation like that it seems all of the roadblocks or hurdles are a lot smaller and a lot easier to navigate.


8 years ago

Thanks, Perry. The trick is to think and act strategically regardless of the questions you use to stimulate the process. I like the one you've suggested. The problem many leaders face is a focus on today vs. tomorrow. Questions like we're discussing can help us maintain the right focus as leaders. We are charged with creating the future. Thanks for joining the conversation! Mark

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8 years ago

[…] Have you started working on your 2015 plans for your organization, asks Mark Miller? If not, it’s probably time to get going, but where should you begin? One approach is to determine what’s most critical for your organization to accomplish in the coming years. In this article, he looks at how to determine your must wins. Great Leaders Serve […]

David Greer

8 years ago

Hi Mark,
Thanks for the book reference--I will check it out.
In my experience, if you get your employees in a room and ask them to brain storm what to stop, they will have lots of ideas. It's as simple as starting with the question "What three things do we need to stop doing today?"
More important than the initial list that you come up with is the discussion that ensues. There will be reasons why you are doing what you are doing. I keep asking the question "Why?" until we get at the root of what problem, issue, or reason we have for doing what we are doing.
I try and make this part of any quarterly strategic planning session. Along with asking my favourite question "What's the #1 thing we *have* to do in the next quarter?"


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