Where Do We Go From Here? Four Ways to Ensure Successful Strategic Planning
By Kristen McAlister, President and COO, Cerius Executives
One full year after the COVID-19 crisis first began, many CEOs and business leaders have already pivoted and are charting their new course. 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 and focused 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? If this scenario describes your organization, you’re not alone. Whether you’re a midsize business or a multi-national corporation, there are four things you can do to ensure successful strategic planning.
1. Surround yourself with smart people—you’ll need their insight.
While leading an organization is often a solitary endeavor (and executives can often feel lonely in the trenches), now’s not the time to be isolated or make decisions in a vacuum. Especially when doing strategic planning, you need inspiration and perspective.
“Many times, that critical insight can only be found when you connect with smart people who have proven experience and who have the company’s best interest in mind,” said Pam Wasley, CEO, Cerius Executives. “That’s precisely why many wise CEOs, presidents and company leaders seek counsel from a trusted resource like a business advisor—or advisory board—a team of trusted individuals who can provide honest, direct feedback and guidance. As leaders think about the path forward and the many possible scenarios that may or may not play out, having some expert guidance is well worth the nominal investment.”
While outside business advisors have no authority to vote on matters (like a Board of Directors), nor do they have any legal or fiduciary responsibility, their expertise and experience can bring valuable insight to the decision-making process, and provide company leaders with sound advice to solve business challenges or reach new goals.
“At Cerius Executives, one of our top requests in today’s dynamic business environment is for advisory resources; and we’re happy to help,” said Wasley. “Our years of experience placing interim, part-time/fractional and project-based executive leaders demonstrate our ability to find the right talent for the right organizations—including business advisors.”
2. Be willing to walk away from your current strategic plan. It’s no help if it won’t work.
Once you know what recovery could look like for your business—and which new market opportunities are worth pursuing—you’ll need to make some serious changes to your current plan. Or simply toss your old strategic plan and start over.
“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 plan and take smart steps to the unknown. There’s no better time.”
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 your 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.
3. Refocus on your mission and vision.
Defining your company’s “why” is what separates your business from the masses, the mission you live beyond the drive for profit. It also inspires loyal employees, and gives them a chance to invest in something greater than themselves.
So when you’re developing your new strategy, it’s critical to ask yourself: What should your organization look like now? Where are you going in the future? Do you have the right talent? Is everyone aligned to get there?
“Being clear on your mission and vision will help guide your conversations, your decision-making, and your strategic planning for the next three to five years,” said Wasley. “It can also help inform whether permanent changes at your organization are needed to achieve the broader vision of your work.”
Remember, your strategic plan won’t be successful if employees can’t connect their work to the mission and vision. If leadership has been effective in creating a mission, onboarding staff into the culture, and setting clear roles and responsibilities, employees will see their place. If not, their confusion and ambivalence will show through in how they interact with customers, their teammates, and the quality of the business’s end products.
4. Help positively redefine company culture.
Your new strategic plan shouldn’t ignore company culture—defined as how everyone acts when no one is watching. In today’s work-from-home environment, this has never been more important. During the pandemic, companies with 500 people in one building became 500 individual offices overnight. Great leadership teams kept this top of mind—and modified their strategic plans to support the new reality. They remained purposeful with their actions and came up with creative ways to either reinforce the company culture in 500 offices or they recognized how that culture needed to shift.
Rather than letting it morph into 500 individual cultures, they utilized ongoing communications to decide what shifts needed to be made to the company’s culture and the employees’ identification with the company.
Pulling It All Together
If your executive leaders aren’t able to perform these responsive actions, your company may not be able to evolve with the times. You may need new ways to strengthen or support 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.