In the current world of a coronavirus pandemic, election year gyrations, and civil unrest, we can see the toll that unexpected change can have on our businesses. No, some of the upheaval we are seeing couldn’t really have been predicted. But some could have. The truth is, when we are planning for the future we often ignore – or at least underplay – risks that we might face. And because of that we don’t have any idea how we would adjust. We’re playing blind. We’re forced to make decisions minute by minute. And we all know how effect that is!
So, obviously the answer is to take some time and think about all those possible things that could derail your plans – and strategize about how you will deal with them.
Brainstorm Your SWOT – esp. the “T”, but also the “W”
You probably know that a SWOT Analysis is part of pretty much every strategic planning process. If you’re not, here’s the quick-n-dirty. You will identify your organization’s:
- Strengths: Areas within your business that work well.
- Weaknesses: Areas within your business that detract from your strengths.
- Opportunities: External factors that can contribute to your success.
- Threats: External factors that you don’t control and that could hinder your success.
It’s not uncommon to develop this list – and kind of ignore the weaknesses and threats. It’s a lot more uplifting to think about areas where we are strong and capable and brainstorm how we might take advantage of new opportunities on the horizon.
The other uncommon thing that we’ve found is that organizations don’t think broadly enough about potential competition. This requires open brainstorming. Define the threat even if it seems remote. Clearly describe how it is or may become a threat. The reality is that we need to watch our flank. Is there a competitor out there that will take advantage of a significant weakness we have and siphon off customers? Will someone move into our marketplace that isn’t even a competitor today? It’s well worth considering these areas that can bring us down or damage us – and figure out how we can reduce or eliminate them.
What the heck do we do about it? Make Plans to Mitigate
Now that we feel confident that we’ve identified these areas, it’s time to figure out how to take action. Think of it this way; we’re trying to defend and build/extend our strengths, eliminate or strengthen our weaknesses, take advantage of opportunities, and mitigate or at least plan to manage our threats.
Here are a few examples:
Weakness: We lack enough capital to grow the business.
Potential Damage: We can’t invest enough on marketing, customer service, or product/service development. Well-funded competitors can do both – and basically spend us into the ground.
Plan: Shorter-term: Take make the most of lower-cost strategies (such as social media or customer feedback). Longer-term: Seek out new investors and/or bank financing sufficient to allow us to invest in new products/services, technology and training to improve customer service, etc.
Threat: Company XYZ, a larger, more-mature tangential business, can leverage their better-known brand and reputation to launch a competing service to our primary product.
Potential Damage: They can sell their service to their long list of existing customers – a big advantage. We might not even get a shot at many potential customers who might choose to buy from the better-known company (a “safer” choice) instead of even considering our services.
Plan: Develop a marketing and sales strategy that targets potential customers who highly value a closer, more personal relationship.
What If Something Pops Up That We Didn’t Plan For?
You know what? It’s gonna happen. There are so many uncertainties around that we should just accept that we’re not going to identify every S, W, O, and T. But we can plan for that too. Here’s what we do.
Be transparent. Admit that something has developed that we just didn’t see coming – and it’s something we can’t ignore. No one’s perfect. No plan is perfect. No strategy is perfect. Life just isn’t perfect. Acknowledge it and move on.
Commit to staying calm. Over the course of many years, one thing I’ve seen that can really make a challenging situation worse is panic. Leaders who don’t “work the problem” and get flustered end up making poor, knee-jerk decisions. Almost always an immediate reaction is not necessary. Pull the troops together (at least your leadership team) and identify and quantify the problem.
Look ahead, not in reverse. It’s important to put your energy into solving the problem – eliminating or minimizing the weakness and/or neutralizing the threat – than looking back and wondering why you didn’t see it coming. (There’s time for that later.)
Change the plan – and perhaps the process. Once things have settled down a bit and you’ve gotten a handle on this new “thing” that popped up, go back and update your strategic plan. Incorporate this into it. And think about how you conducted your planning process. Was there something you could have done that might have helped you see this? Do you have some blind-spot? Think about how you can lower the number of surprises the next time you visit your plan. Revise the process. Really, it’s ok. Make the process work for you and don’t feel like you have to adhere to the specific process you went through before. Just as your strategies can and will change, so might your approach to developing them.
If we can take even 20-30% of the risks off the table – and know how we will adjust if they do occur? It gives us more confidence that we can implement our plan successfully – even if (and when) that plan has to change. So let’s keep building our plans. But don’t forget to give some serious thought to how we will pivot when needed.
Let’s make sure your organization has a solid path to the future. Please feel free to reach out and get in touch and let’s explore how I can help you and your business succeed. No pressure. Just an informal discussion to explore some ideas.