During the coronavirus pandemic, you might have heard people say, “We’re all in the same boat”.
But that’s not true! We’re all in the same storm, but we’re in different boats, navigating our way through the storm. If you’re a leader, you can’t control the storm and you might be stuck with the boat you’re in. But you can influence the way you lead your people and your organisation through that storm.
As a leader – especially a senior leader – you must still create strategic plans for your organisation’s future, even in the face of an uncertain, fast-changing world.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been working with some clients and their leadership teams, to help them with their strategic planning as we ease our way back from the strictest restrictions.
In one of those meetings last week, one of the senior leaders asked me this (insightful) question:
“What is the biggest mistake you see executive teams making now?”
That’s a broad question, but the answer is easy. The biggest mistake I’m seeing now is too much focus on short-term planning.
In fact, this is a common mistake at any time, but it’s particularly common – and dangerous – now.
The things you don’t know WILL hurt you!
When it comes to strategic planning in a crisis (and beyond), most organisations go through three stages – crisis, recovery, and growth. Your success depends on how well you manage your strategic planning at each stage.
Here’s how a typical organisation will operate in this crisis …
When the pandemic first hits, you move into survival mode, and all action is reactive and focussed on immediate needs only.
During this stage, long-term strategic planning is absent, and that’s exactly the right focus at this time, because you need to react to external circumstances. After you have dealt with the immediate impact of the pandemic, and you have time to pause and take a breath, you realise your old strategic plan is no longer relevant.
As you start on the road to recovery, you draft a new plan.
You can now be more responsive and measured, but because you’re still operating in a volatile environment, it’s tempting to focus only on short-term goals – because that’s as far ahead as you can see.
Unfortunately, that means you’re still at the mercy of the external environment. Many organisations get stuck at this point, lurching from month to month with short-term plans that continually need to be revised or discarded. It’s not sustainable, and you’re likely to break down eventually.
To move from recovery to growth, you need to be proactive and act even in uncertainty.
You plan further into the future, not because you can see it clearly, but despite the fact you can’t. You map out multiple external scenarios, choose the most plausible path, and design your strategy to follow that path. At the same time, you remain flexible enough to switch to an alternative strategy if circumstances change.
In fact, there’s a fourth stage, but most organisations don’t go there.
In any environment – but especially where everything is shaken loose – a few entrepreneurial organisations take the opportunity to be disruptive. They become the disruptors of the future, not the disrupted from the past. These are the iconic businesses in an industry that take the lead and ultimately change their industry.
Will you thrive or just survive?
We all go through the Crisis-Recovery-Growth process, but not all in the same way.
The mistake most organisations make is to wait too long to plan for growth. The most successful organisations proactively plan for growth even while going through recovery. Even before they have fully “recovered” from the crisis, they are already thinking ahead to the future:
- Office work: Are you just thinking about making your workplaces safe and healthy for staff to return, or are you proactively planning for a future where the office isn’t the main workplace?
- Restaurants: Are you only planning for coping with limited numbers and social distancing, or are you already re-imagining the dining experience of the future?
- Hotels: Are you still only thinking of rooms as accommodation, or have you planned to offer them for working spaces or private dining spaces?
- Tourist venues: Of course you’re gearing up for the return of tourists, but what more are you doing to create a superior visitor experience?
This global pandemic, as bad as it is, has challenged the status quo. That’s why so many people are talking about “a new normal”. There are huge opportunities for those who are proactively thinking beyond recovery, and it doesn’t take much to stand out.