Who’s got time for strategic planning?
If you’re too busy cutting costs and revising forecasts to think strategically about your future, you may find yourself unprepared for that future when it arrives. Yes, strategic planning can be a long process filled with brainstorming sessions, team building exercises and pie-in-the sky scenarios. But in times of uncertainty a better approach is a practical review of facts and circumstances, and a pragmatic look at the risks and opportunities ahead.
Start by asking yourself these basic questions:
- What do we do well? Don’t just state the obvious. Is it the product itself (world’s best widget), the marketing, your sales force, or your pricing? Are your stores in the perfect location?
- What do we do badly? Is one product line or one regional operation performing poorly? Assess whether this is something you need to repair or retire.
- What’s our competitive position? Go deeper by evaluating what similar companies are doing. Do you lead the market, or are you a smaller player? Who is your strongest competitor, and what are they doing that’s winning? Who is your weakest competitor, and what are they doing that makes them weak?
- Who are our best customers? What do they think of you? Are you sure? Did they tell you that, or did you just assume? When was the last time you asked a customer How are we doing?
- Are there environmental factors we need to acknowledge? Specific aspects of the economic crisis may affect some businesses more than others. Obvious examples are suppliers to the auto companies or realtors. Less obvious might be medical professionals or pharmacies in low income areas where people are cutting back on needed care they can’t afford. Keep an eye on legislative issues as well, including tax policy.
- What else could go wrong? Be honest and think broadly. This is no time to hide potential trouble from yourself or your team.
Next, look at some scenarios. At the very least, forecast the best case, most likely case and worst case for the next year. At least you’ll know what you might be facing.
Identify your goals. What do you want to achieve in the next six months? How about the next year? Make sure your goals are SMART: specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and time based. Don’t have too many. Communicate them well and frequently, and with a sense of urgency.
Build an action plan showing the steps you’ll take to get to the goals.
Create a process to measure your progress and communicate it regularly. Non-profits post thermometers showing how they’re doing against their fundraising goals. How will you make sure everyone is focused on the important things?
Yes, these are difficult times, and you may be fighting short-term battles every day. But if you make a conscious effort to assess where you’re really at, decide where you want to go from here, and develop a plan to get there, it will make all the difference in the world.