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Robust Strategic Planning Matters More Now than Ever

Across North America we are all a month and a half into battling the Covid-19 crisis on both business and personal fronts. No organization remains untouched and every one of us is dealing with some sort of stress whether health-related, economic, mental or a combination thereof. Businesses, government institutions, and not-for-profits have all had to pivot in the delivery of goods and services, some more than others, but all have been impacted nonetheless. Many of us are working from home, or not able to work at all, and everyone is tired whether we realize it or not.

Given this reality, many leaders may be inclined to scale back annual planning this year in order to focus on the more immediate fire-fighting. Wouldn’t it be simpler to scale it back, minimize the work involved, host a virtual annual planning call, push off any strategic decisions that can be avoided for now, and stick to being grateful for simply continuing to exist for the time? As tempting as this approach may be in the short-term, it is not ideal for long-term sustainability and success. In reality, large portions of your existing organizational strategy, and the assumptions they are based on, are no longer valid and the only way to clearly identify where and how the path forward needs to be revised is through thoughtful strategic review and revision.

Re ”vision”: reconsidering your organization’s post-pandemic core value-proposition and where you want to be, not just when a vaccine is finally available, but within a permanently changed competitive environment three to five years from now. What will your core competitive differentiation be within a new environment shapeshifted across supplier, workforce, customer, partnership, operating process, regulatory and public sentiment fronts?

While that list may seem daunting, employing some tried and true strategic analysis frameworks can help. One good place to start is to consider what is now changing and what is likely to keep changing within your operating environment post-pandemic. You might use Porter’s Five Forces model (shown at left) to categorize the changes you are currently seeing and the ones you anticipate becoming stronger post-pandemic. Consider the underlying assumptions, both stated and assumed, in each focal area of your current strategic plan and whether the assumptions are likely to remain valid in the future. For example, the massive and rapid shift to digital work, shopping, and living significantly changes the potential speed with which your customers may adopt and expect digital service delivery in the future. Less obvious, but no less important, might be consideration of which of your suppliers are likely to survive the next 18 months and how they’ll want to adjust your interactions and your relationship.

Gathering input for this exercise by interviewing a manageable cross-section of key stakeholders including management, board members, front-line employees and other key parties can provide helpful insights and varied perspectives regarding business and competitive arena shifts. From here, having a smaller, dedicated team of strategic planners dig deeper to test where recent and emerging internal and external data supports the new assumptions is valuable.

Paying extra attention to the core areas of customer, competition and capabilities typically makes sense especially as the pandemic threatens to permanently upend many of the past realities on these fronts. This then leads to reaffirming or adjusting where your organization’s strategic focus / core value proposition should be going forward, as depicted in the simplified illustration here.

Next, fleshing out what this implies across each of the key internal and external aspects of how you do business, create value, and deliver that value to customers is ideally mapped with potential key changes to the strategic direction, capital investment and operating plans highlighted. Also considering the resultant plan as a whole will help you determine whether it is likely to be achievable overall or whether pacing and magnitude changes are necessary to strengthen your potential for success.

Possibly, in the case of uncertainty regarding certain key assumption (particularly those related to external environment and customer expectations post-pandemic), more than one scenario and/or different scenario pacing considers may need to be mapped out for consideration. Regardless, bringing more robust and evidence-based strategic plans to your board or governance body for consideration, debate, and refinement during this year’s annual planning process, while entailing hard pre-work, could make the difference that ensures your organization survives, or even thrives, within the altered world in which we will all find ourselves, post-pandemic.