White Paper by Larry Sells
April 24, 2020
While on a walk recently in my neighborhood, I was very conscious about social distancing due to the COVID-19 virus. I noticed myself looking way ahead and way behind me to be aware of any other walkers, joggers or bike riders headed in my direction to ensure I was keeping at least 6 feet or more away from them. When I found someone coming my way, I moved to the other side of the road well in advance of them approaching me. My head was on a swivel the entire walk and I had to reposition myself often as there were a lot of people out that particular day.
While writing this piece on strategic planning, I thought of that walk that day and how much in common it had with business and strategic planning and looking beyond the horizon business-wise. Being aware of your company, your offerings, the business environment and your competition is critical. A strategic plan involves thinking about, planning for and anticipating the future as best as you can for potential seen and unseen business impacts - good or bad. A strategic plan will account for potential business pivots you may need to make in advance. It’s all about trying to stay ahead of the game, which is not a perfect science, but a much-needed business discipline nonetheless that needs to be flexible and nimble.
First of all, strategic planning is important for any business. When doing any research on strategic planning, you will find the five steps, eight steps, 10 steps and more versions of how to do a strategic plan. Forbes stated in a recent article that strategic planning was knowing the following: Where are you? What is important? What must be achieved? Who is accountable? You must review the outcomes. I am going to attempt to employ the KISS principle (Keep It Simple Stupid) for this process.
First, know that the outcome of any strategic plan is to ensure that your vision for your company has a plan for growth, applying the appropriate company resources (people and money) and how to measure and monitor your success to your plan. So where should you begin?
Start with a SWOT Analysis (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats). Note that I didn’t say start with a mission or vision statement. Why? I think (my opinion) the SWOT analysis is where the rubber meets the road. A SWOT analysis should be a very honest and thorough assessment of your company and where you currently are in each SWOT area. What sustainable competitive advantages or strengths do you have? List all of them. What are your weaknesses? We all have them, so list them all.
How will you address these weaknesses? Where does your business fall short? What is holding you back from being more successful internally and externally? What are the opportunities that exist for your business? Think hard about your offerings or business improvements and any additional enhanced offerings or things you should consider doing. Also, consider what you should stop doing! What are the threats to your business? What things could put you out of business? Do you know all about your competitors - current and emerging? As an example, ask yourself if your business was affected by COVID-19. If so, how? What would you - and must you - do differently now? These are all things to think about, and you should include input from all employees to ensure you are not missing anything from the people that are closest to the business and your customers. This exercise will provide you a strategy as an outcome and then you can develop objectives and tactics for each element of your SWOT plan that you have defined. A mission statement and vision can also emerge from a SWOT
Measurement is important to ensure your plan and outcomes are working. Create a way to measure, by goals and objectives, how you are performing against each element of your plan. All goals and objectives you create need to be measurable, attainable, and be time bound - meaning that there is a date to reconcile results or status to know if you are on track or not.
Finally, communication is critical. Make sure you are communicating with your company the progress you are making regularly. As in any organization, clear communication is essential for all things you are undertaking, as employees always need to be aligned and on the same page. Clear communication is too often an overlooked critical element and perhaps the most essential of all. Do not leave your employees wondering about anything.
In closing, strategic planning is a necessary business discipline that once completed needs to be revisited, minimally quarterly, to see if you are on track. Remember that there is no perfect plan. Your strategic plan should be considered a living business document that is flexible, nimble and open to change.