Last week I shared the importance of debating assumptions when creating and evolving business strategies. I believe debating assumptions is step one in the strategic planning process, but the reality is it’s only 1 of 4 key steps to a dynamic and adaptive approach. This week, I thought I would share the full 4 step process.
Although May isn’t necessarily a prime strategic planning time of year, the pandemic has had most of us re-assessing how best to adapt and execute our business strategies. The truth is, for quite some time, the pace of rapid digital evolution and change has really caused us to continually keep a close eye on strategy and prepare to pivot as opportunities and challenges arise. COVID-19 is like that on steroids.
With an already unprecedented rate of change, coupled with an extraordinary global pandemic we’ve never faced before, traditional long-range planning can quickly become outdated. As a leader, how can you create a plan for the future of your firm that keeps up with this much uncertainty?
The secret is building dynamic business plans that you can adapt in real time, responding to changes in your market and the world. It’s not too late to create a flexible plan that you can adjust as you implement it. To do so, focus on four key elements:
1. Debate assumptions
If you missed last week’s post, let’s recap. By debating assumptions and creating open dialog with your team at the beginning of the strategic process, you create the opportunity to face challenges together. Focus on important drivers like:
- Customers. Identify short- and long-term risks in each relationship to find opportunities to strengthen customer relationships.
- Solutions. Look for opportunities to combine capabilities and build completely new solutions or enter new markets.
- Workforce. Work to understand the social contract your company has with its employees. If employees don’t feel valued, they may move on, taking their domain expertise with them. This has never been more important than it is right now.
- Culture. Create policies and procedures that instill a sense of belonging and/or trust. A collaborative culture helps work get done efficiently within teams and across the organization.
By starting with frank communication, you’ll find it easier to gain the necessary buy-in to build and execute the plan. You also help foster an environment where people are more willing to share the challenges they face as these assumptions are executed in the real world.
2. Develop goals and measure progress
Once you’ve debated assumptions openly and honestly, you can begin to develop goals. Set specific goals and decide how you will measure whether each goal is met. Metrics should be both process-oriented and results-oriented.
A formal goal-setting and measurement process allows your team to celebrate milestone metrics along the way. In many businesses, goals won’t be met overnight – even in the best of circumstances. As customers and industries shift priorities to meet unanticipated impacts of the pandemic, this is probably more likely. Measuring and acknowledging progress is critical in keeping your team motivated and focused on achieving their longer–term, result-oriented goals.
As you measure your progress, be sure to ask “why” when a strategy is working – and when it’s not. What can the team do to keep a trend alive or change course? Questioning with a tone of curiosity, not judgment, tends to elicit more honest feedback. Strive to understand what is causing the business to act the way it does, good or bad. Don’t run from the facts, embrace them. It’s not about being “right” in a dynamic world, it’s about adaptability. I think we are all getting a crash course in adaptability right now – how you measure progress and honestly address impact to goals will go a long way with your team and the business you lead.
It’s crucial to keep people informed throughout the process as you focus on the deliverables:
Share assumptions and how they were used to develop goals.
Communicate your result-oriented goals and how your measurement metrics align to them.
Communicating your strategy should extend outside the walls of your organization to an external audience. Clients often value the strategic process as much as they do the end result, and they’re a critical component of managing your intended strategy in reaction to emergent trends.
Knowing your customers and incorporating their thoughts, ideas and support gives you more opportunities for improvement. After all, your customers face the same pace of change you deal with regularly. Developing deep-seated, candid relationships can only help you manage the changing tides together.
Treating your clients like partners will go a long way toward helping you manage the ebbs and flows of strategy execution in a rapidly evolving world.
4. Invest in communities
In today’s hyper-connected world, community lies at the heart of any strong strategy. The connections you foster with employees, partners, customers and society can be a fantastic catalyst for moving a business forward. In the last 2 months I have seen client, employee and partner communities come together like never before. They have been tested and strengthened all at once. It has been a silver lining and a source of comfort for me personally and those on my team. Investing in them over the past few years has allowed us to have collaboration networks when we’ve needed them most. These communities have allowed us to support each other in a way that reminds us we are not in this alone.
Regardless of the product or service you sell, people want to connect with other people, so make sure you’re providing opportunities to engage on a deeper, more personal level with people you interact with. Employee and client events, virtual meetings, social media, blogs and special interest clubs, and yes, even the (sometimes dreaded) video conferences, are all excellent ways to facilitate connection. You may be surprised at how much people will open up once they’re invited into a conversation.
Building community is the single greatest way I know to build trust and authentic, long-lasting business relationships. That’s why it’s important to keep community in mind as you build and launch your strategy. Audience development is a key ingredient in your strategic planning approach. Ask yourself:
- Are you focused solely on existing customers and solutions?
- Will you look behind the curtain and visualize the true needs of your current and future markets?
- Are you deploying human capital to its full capacity?
- Do you provide transparency and opportunities for open dialogue?
Incorporating community into your strategy not only helps strengthen execution, but separates the future leaders from the followers.
To stay relevant in an ever-changing world, your business needs a strategy that’s contextually timeless with flexibility and evolution baked into it. There’s certainly more than one right approach to execution, but these four elements are critical to strategic planning in a truly dynamic world. Be bold, be collaborative and have confidence in your strategy, but not arrogance – it’s the quickest way to kill the potential for success.