This blog is from our Summer Digital Series: Recover Your Strategy
You’re seeing it everywhere… messages appealing to people’s sense of wanting to shift to getting back to it – ‘it’ being safely engaging in our world. Federal, state and local governments are talking about ‘moving in phases’ and many others are mirroring that concept in their appeals to customers and prospects. Headlines all over the internet proclaim, “Now is the perfect time to refresh, re-evaluate and re-examine your...(fill in the blank).”
But what if you had already considered your future before everything happened and had it all planned? What should you do then? How do you balance what you’ve already done with what may be a better direction going forward? Have you thought of all the possibilities now that your organization is headed out into the new environment?
First Things First - Start With Your Vision
Begin with examining your vision. Make sure it’s still sound. Ask yourself, after all that is happened, whether or not it still fits with both your core competencies and the needs of those you serve. If things have shifted, lay out the shifts and the opportunities they create. Identify the reasons in enough detail to determine if they are just temporary or longer term. Look at how you can shift or adapt your vision if you need to or reaffirm your direction. From that vision, you can then begin to examine how you are structured to reach that vision. Look at how you are organized, staffed and funded. Ask yourself if you are properly aligned in those three areas to enable you to focus on your new vision.
If you are able to accomplish a quick shift or re-affirm what you already do will work in the new environment, you’re off. If, however, you find that you must pivot your business and re-allocate your talent, and resources and/or shift your organizational structure either in part or completely, you might consider challenging things at a base level.
Zero-Based Planning Principles
As always, there are a variety of different ways to look at your future from a new perspective. One method for examining the situation is using Zero-Based principles.
Essentially, this method asks you to take a fresh look at your organization with the idea that you make no initial assumptions – at all. It’s not completely a ‘start from scratch’ but it advocates backing away from the ‘peanut butter’ approach to resource allocation (everyone gets a little something in the spread) and looks at how you can best apply your resources to influence the direction you want to take.
The principles of Zero-Based Planning embrace the concept that strategy should drive structure and not the other way around. As we have all experienced at different times, an organization revises its strategy only to discover its current structure actually inhibits strategy execution because capital, human resources and organizational structure can be aligned with the old strategy and therefore misaligned with the new direction.
To do zero-based planning, first, assess your current situation. Only when you know where you are can you begin to understand what works and what doesn’t. Look specifically at where you have issues and examine why. If you can, do benchmarking against other organizations that have been successful at doing what you need to do. Look at the state of your communications. Are they clear? Are your processes direct and free of workarounds? Look at your operations. Do you have waste or redundancies in areas? How can you eliminate it? Look at your talent pool. Do you have what you need for the future? Where can you achieve efficiencies and how will you do it?
Next, look at the possibility of aligning your people around finding solutions for your customers. Most organizations are aligned around departmental competencies. This is a structural hold-over from the traditional business models that were much more hierarchical and managed from the top-down. Information flowed from the leadership to the rest of the organization and everyone was informed as much as was necessary. This model, in today’s more networked world, is less logical. Everyone is connected to each other and with an email address or a website, everyone has access to the same level of knowledge.
Structural change to fit this new, networked world is needed across many organizations. Operating in a way that helps get products and services more directly to those served not only makes more sense, it may soon be the only way to survive. Using organizational tools like cross functional teams, networked communications and flatter management structures can cut through the silos that burden organizations and lead to miscommunication and inefficiencies. They can also keep a pulse on the needs of your customers to ensure that you are responding at the right time and in the right way.
The next step is to allocate organizational capacity to ensure your strategic priorities are being funded and staffed properly. If you have a vision for executing your strategy but your people and capital aren’t directed to achieve it, you won’t. If you can’t shift your organization to support the strategies you are pursuing, you will be setting goals for people but not giving them the support to achieve them. They will be fighting a losing battle.
Finally, during this process of reallocation and re-evaluation, answer two, overarching questions to help drive you to a unifying purpose.
What are the things we must get right to succeed?
What could we do if we thought about our organization differently?
Both of these should lead you to a healthy debate (if they don’t, you need some diversity of thought in your ranks) and a real discussion about what it is that you do best and how can you do it better. The first question gives you the answer to what we call critical success factors. If you don’t get them right, you will fail. The second question asks you to consider different ways to achieve your critical success factors. It asks you to challenge pre-conceived ways of doing things.
Then there are your priorities. What makes the most sense when you have a great deal to do and only limited resources? The direct approach is best here. Ask yourself if the priority is…
- Directly relevant? - Is it directly aligned with one or more of your critical success factors?
- A major initiative on which other initiatives are dependent?
- Low Hanging Fruit? - Is it fast/easy/resource cheap to execute?
Here are ideas for setting strategic priorities in a little more detail.
The Power of Your People
Finally, if you go through this examination and neglect to involve your whole team, you will neglect the most powerful part of the equation. Do an assessment of your culture, either formally or informally. You and your team can use our helpful strategy readiness assessment. Find out what your organization thinks is going well and what they think needs to improve; what they think about your strengths and weaknesses and what they can offer as solutions. Technology makes it incredibly easy to ask people what they think. So, do it. Ask everyone! It costs very little and the results can be enlightening. Let it influence not only where you need to improve but what you can do to take advantage of your strengths.
Make sure everyone knows what you are looking for when you ask them to be a part of this information gathering. Tell them why you are asking for their input and let them know the outcomes of your research. People are willing to spend time giving you information if you share what you have learned. The information helps them and you demonstrate your willingness to be transparent about both your strengths and your weaknesses.
Challenging assumptions, setting priorities and mobilizing your team – each one of these will help you test your current plan and its resilience in helping you move forward out of quarantine.