Strategic Planning in the Post-COVID-19 World: Top Challenges That Every Organization Should Address (or Get Left Behind)
By Kristen McAlister, President, Cerius Executives
Strategic planning season typically falls toward the end of any year, but when the world is still recovering from a global pandemic, traditional rules simply don’t apply. In fact, one could argue that the entire 2021 year will be “strategic planning season”—a time when organizations large and small seek to turn the page, hit the reset button and get back to forging ahead with growth.
Strategic planning is a critical function for every organization—regardless of size, market or location. But if your organization is like most, you’re suffering from lack of a good playbook in the post-COVID-19 world. Like everyone else, you didn’t have a section in your plan dedicated to recovery and rebuilding after a global pandemic.
With the last calendar year being like no other, today’s organizations are rethinking everything. Including how to revise their strategic plan, how to best execute on that plan—or in some cases, how to create a new plan altogether.
“One full year after the COVID-19 crisis first began, many CEOs and business leaders have already pivoted and are charting their new course,” said Pam Wasley, CEO, Cerius Executives. “Others, however, are still in transition. Perhaps they hunkered down in hopes the crisis would pass quickly. Perhaps they waited to see how their competitors or customers would respond. Perhaps they’ve been buried with orders and are just now coming up for air.”
Whatever the reason, these companies are now ready to focus on one important challenge: planning for the future. They are taking a hard look at their strategic plans (which were built for the pre-COVID-19 market) and asking themselves: Where to do we go from here?
“At Cerius, we’ve heard from many CEOs in our network in the past year—we know what’s on their minds right now,” said Wasley. “Based on industry trends and reports, we’ve also got a clear idea about where they will focus their energy in the year ahead.”
Here are some insights and top concerns:
One Top Concern: Pivoting to Exploit New Opportunities
Instead of doing traditional strategic planning, many organizations need help creating an entirely new strategy and putting a roadmap in place to go somewhere new. In the past 12 months, their companies have pivoted (sometimes dramatically) and they’re now seeing market opportunities to spur their growth.
A company’s new strategic plan should take many things into account: How customers have been impacted by recent market changes. How the company is going to increase support and partner with them going forward. What should change with what the business provides, how you provide it, or who you provide it to. The new strategic plan should reflect your market responsiveness, and help your organization emerge stronger, more resilient, and more in touch with customers’ needs.
“Flexibility is the name of the game when business conditions and customer buying behaviors are shifting,” said Wasley. “Sometimes the smartest thing a company can do is step outside of their comfort zone and be willing to walk away from their former strategic plan and take smart steps to the unknown. There’s no better time. Another smart strategy is to bring in outside perspective, perhaps with a business advisor or interim executive leader who can lend support through a critical transition time.”
Rising Challenge: Recruiting and Hiring
According to a recent (Sept. 2020) survey by online HR resource site XpertHR, recruiting and hiring will be an ongoing challenge for U.S. employers throughout 2021.
Why? Talent acquisition professionals will have their hands full, as unemployment is expected to remain high and a majority of people in the labor force expect to look for new jobs despite, or possibly due to, the economic uncertainty caused by COVID-19.
“Within talent acquisition, attracting top talent is often the most difficult issue to navigate, followed by ensuring candidates feel safe to work onsite, hiring a diverse workforce and managing virtual recruiting and onboarding practices,” said Wasley. “In addition, recruiters will likely see a surplus of candidates who are looking for remote jobs, seeking more security, or giving up temporary jobs for permanent ones. It’s a lot to manage—and strong leadership is required.”
New Reality: Planning Workplace Environments of the Future
We all know the pandemic has changed the workplace forever, which also causes major disruption for worksite planning. Many organizations are challenged to redesign their workplace with physical health and safety as a top priority. They also need to create a feeling of safety for employees who will soon be returning to their traditional office worksites.
On the flip side, other organizations are adjusting to the broad acceptance of remote working as a proven option. This causes different issues. It forces leaders to adapt their culture and communications to incorporate remote workers, engage in hybrid meetings and accept that work-from-home is a permanent fixture in the new reality.
“In both situations, leaders need to build and maintain morale with their leadership teams and employees,” said Wasley. “The past year has been stressful—and many organizations aren’t out of the woods yet. Leaders need to keep employees focused and positive, avoiding burnout, and inspiring the organization for continued recovery.”
Ready to Go, But Not Sure Where to Begin
In the process of strategic planning, many CEOs have an inkling of where they want to take the company, but aren’t totally sure how to get there. Many choose to get some outside advice or a comprehensive business assessment by an expert advisor or interim executive—someone who takes the time to understand the organization from head to toe, understands market dynamics and can offer savvy guidance based on their own professional experience. These experienced advisors and C-level executives can help organizational leaders:
- Create a solid roadmap, including the goals, KPIs and key initiatives necessary to reach the finish line
- Provide new ideas and strategies
- Build and sustain a corporate culture that engages and retains top talent
- Serve as a sounding board for the CEO as they talk through tough business obstacles and keep the team moving
- Stay involved to help hold the team accountable on a weekly basis
- Fill expertise gaps as needed
Pulling It All Together
As your organization conducts quarterly reviews of your strategic plan, you may need to strengthen your leadership team—or bring in experienced executive leadership on an interim, part-time or project-basis—to help you adapt to a new environment and lead your company to a stronger future.