Gaining strategic clarity when your crystal ball is cloudy
Today’s business climate continues to be exceptionally complex and volatile. Even as we move into a “new normal,” we no longer can take for granted that shifting trends will be visible or customer needs will be stable. Now is the time to clarify what’s required to ensure your future success.
Take advantage of any emerging opportunities and insights you have gained from your strategic triage efforts. Reassess your strategic investments in all of the assets of your enterprise. Most importantly, shift your focus from a reactive planning mode to one that takes a more proactive planning approach that pivots around your customers and those you want to bring into your sales cycle.
Your Shifting Planning Focus
Many leaders currently are experiencing “planning fatigue.” The intensity of operating in a continual planning mode has been stressful and has taken its toll on many leaders. Some say it’s impossible to keep engaging in strategic planning every three months. They’re exhausted.
You have strategic objectives. These are the overarching goals you’re trying to achieve. The time horizon most companies use for achieving strategic objectives typically is three years. The reality is you’re not actually engaging in strategic planning. Rather, you’re engaging in evaluating your strategic execution, which focuses on assessing the effectiveness of your tactical implementation.
While the circumstances of the past year have required many to engage in a major reassessment, as your situation has stabilized much of the activity going forward is on reevaluating the tactics by which you’ll achieve your desired or readjusted longer-term strategic objectives.
Just recognize that your planning horizon has shifted. We’re often more focused now on short-term tactical execution that builds profitability and stability. By recognizing that you can continually adjust your tactics to achieve your strategic goals, some of the planning pressure can be removed.
Get close to your customer. Understand how much their decision criteria may have shifted during the past year.
Evaluating Your Tactical Effectiveness
Establish regular meetings, typically on a weekly basis, to evaluate the data and information you are tracking. This allows you to review and discuss which tactics are working and which are not.
Engaging in micro adjustments to some tactics allows for more rapid assessment of what works best to meet your customer needs. This can help maintain team morale as new ideas are brought forward. By engaging with your team and involving them in discussing the evolving situation, you are building both their strategic thinking and their critical thinking skills. Both skill sets will be exceptionally valuable as you strengthen your strategic effectiveness.
You can continually implement new ideas and identify pilot projects that will enable you to test new opportunities without making a major investment. This enables you to tweak new ideas so that you can find the best match for your enterprise and your customers.
Evaluate your streamlining efforts. What has worked well and what has limited your ability to operate efficiently while meeting your customer needs? Re-examine your budget and spending patterns to identify any expenses you may have cut too deeply.
Reconsider Your Strategic Investments
Your company has many assets. These include your staff, your financial reserves and your product inventory or intellectual property. Review each of these to identify how you can better leverage them for revenue or profitability in light of your revised strategic assumptions. Can you use the knowledge you have gained in the past year to redeploy your assets in a more cost-effective or profitable manner?
Have new opportunities emerged that you have not acted on yet? If you need additional resources to take advantage of these opportunities, identify the strategic investments you need to make. These can include investing in the education of your staff, buying new equipment or diverting current expenses into new opportunities that will provide you with a better return on your investment.
If you need additional team members but are not ready to invest in full-time positions, identify opportunities to expand your relationships with vendors who can fill the gap. Or find subcontractors or contract staffing firms who can provide you with the flexibility you need as you make a spending transition.
By recognizing that you can continually adjust your tactics to achieve your strategic goals, some of the planning pressure can be removed.
Get Back to Basics
Focus on your customer and the activities that drive revenue. Identify the key information you’re going to track and the data sets that will help you identify the micro trends that have emerged in the last six months which may set a new course for your future. By drilling down into who is buying from you and why, you have a new foundation of insight to use going forward.
Get close to your customer. Understand how much their decision criteria may have shifted during the past year. Are you prepared with your marketing messages, sales team, and social media strategies to match these criteria and build (or rebuild) relationships with your customers? Understanding exactly where your customer’s mindset is today provides you with new insight on what it will take to remain competitive and drive revenue consistent with your strategic vision.
Gain emerging insights from your vendors about what others in your sector are successfully implementing. Can you glean any new ideas to incorporate into your enterprise or help to better meet your customer needs?
Few strategic approaches are ever perfectly executed. The complex marketplace we operate within ensures that some adjustments will be required. By realistically assessing the marketplace and evolving trends, you exponentially expand your potential for long-term strategic success. Just continue to adjust your tactical execution and deepen your value to those you serve.
Jill J. Johnson, MBA, is founder and President of Johnson Consulting Services, a highly accomplished speaker, an award-winning management consultant, and author of the bestselling book Compounding Your Confidence. Jill helps her clients make critical business decisions and develop market-based strategic plans for turnarounds or growth. Her consulting work has impacted more than $4 billion worth of decisions. She has a proven track record of dealing with complex business issues and getting results. For more information, visit www.jcs-usa.com.