Why Business Strategy Is More Important Than Ever Right Now
Honestly, I'm finding it super frustrating right now watching some of my clients struggle during these challenging times. The coronavirus crisis has upended business per usual for millions of people across the world and I'm seeing firsthand so many small business owners wrestle with what this all means for them and their businesses.
I have some clients who are absolutely thriving right now and I have some clients who are flailing about, trying and failing to find some sense of stability in this global crisis.
So, the question is - what makes them different?
Why are some people rising to the occasion, pivoting easily and making medicine out of poison? While some are running around and panicking?
I'm seeing one major theme emerge - the business builders who are succeeding right now are those who have integrated the liminal space between the short-term and the long-term into their business planning practices.
They don't just live day to day, moment to moment, putting out fires and attending to the newest crisis. They regularly pivot and adjust, thoughtfully and intentionally.
The people who are struggling right now are those who either focus too much on the short-term or focus too much on the long-term.
Let's break this down a bit:
When business owners focus solely on the short-term, I call it Shiny Object Syndrome. Other people call them foxes. They are pursuing many ends at the same time. They are diffused, scattered, and unfocused, never integrating their thinking into one overall concept or unifying vision.
These are the business owners who constantly find themselves in sprints, not marathons. They find themselves putting out fires day-in and day-out, and they always end up overworked, exhausted, frustrated, and burnt out.
There's no clarity, there's no space or time to attend to the practices that will help them set and achieve long-term goals. They feel like they’re being productive, because they’re completing tons of tasks on a daily basis but they’re stuck with quantity over quality.
When business owners focus solely on the long-term, on the other hand, there is no flexibility. They tend to devote a ton of time and effort to come up with "The Plan" - a formal document laying out all goals, objectives, strategies, action plans, actions, and evaluations.
One disadvantage of this approach is that it is often a slow and frustrating process that takes numerous months, even years sometimes. Another is its inherent inflexibility. Once a plan has been drafted and approved, it can be very difficult to change. Because it's such a lengthy process, it often places the business in a holding pattern that restricts the implementation of new initiatives.
And those business builders who are thriving in the current crisis are those that bridge the gap between these two approaches. They are the ones who embrace the amorphous, liminal space between the two extremes. They use the two approaches to compliment each other, mitigating their respective disadvantages with their respective advantages.
The business builders who are successfully pivoting right now are attending to the short-term by openly and honestly confronting the brutal facts of reality and using them to pivot their pre-established integrated planning processes.
Integrated planning models do not have predictable beginning and end points nor do they assume that one point in the planning process determines subsequent steps. All components of planning, mission statements, goal formulation, objectives and targets, action plans, implementation, and evaluation must take place constantly so that as information is generated from one area it can influence decisions and choices made in another.
This practice enables a business to be immediately responsive to change, opportunity, and setbacks. It does not have to begin the process of planning all over again in order to respond to any sudden change, such as the coronavirus crisis.
They can address the brutal facts of reality - that business as we know it has been upended by the current global crisis - and adjust accordingly.
And the business builders who are thriving right now balance these immediate, responsive capabilities with an eye on the long-term - thereby avoiding the scattered Shiny Object Syndrome approach.
In order to make sure that their short-term adjustments don't cause their business to become derailed, they have taken the time to also develop a Hedgehog concept (as introduced by Jim Collins in his book Good to Great).
A Hedgehog concept is in direct contrast to the foxes mentioned above. A Hedgehog concept simplifies a complex world into a single organizing idea - a basic principle or concept that unifies and guides everything. It's how great businesses can determine which actions, practices, processes, goals, objectives, and/or responses are essential and which are non-essential.
Anything that does not somehow relate to the business's Hedgehog concept holds no relevance. This is how they make sure that their short-term efforts align with their long-term goals. This is how they intentionally and strategically inhabit the liminal space between the short-term and the long-term so that they can successfully pivot their businesses in times of crisis.
They are able to do this because they have already invested time and energy into developing the requisite business structures that accommodate both the integrated planning processes as well as the unifying Hedgehog concept before this current crisis struck.
My clients who are able to pivot easily in these challenging times understand the benefits of looking at their business development strategy with a holistic eye. They understand that they need to maintain a big picture point of view both on the short-term with integrated planning processes and on the long-term with a guiding Hedgehog concept.
My clients who are struggling right now are those who look at their businesses as piecemeal projects. They see social media as separate from their website as separate from their client processes as separate from their scheduling systems as separate from their financial documentation as separate from their own personal well-being. When in reality, they're all interconnected.
They're struggling because they're taking the fox approach, diffusing their attention among too many different "sections" of their business instead of aligning every part of their business under one unifying concept. And, to make things worse, they also believe that if they get one of these individual "sections" in their business "fixed" then they won't have to pay attention to it again for a long time.
What they're doing is making a recipe for disaster by combining all the disadvantages of a scattered, short-term approach and an inflexible, long-term approach. Not only are they going after too many Shiny Objects, but they're also expecting those Shiny Objects to be set in stone once they're finished dealing with them.
That's not how life or business works. It is all connected at the end of the day and business builders must recognize that they need to employ an integrated, short-term planning approach that is guided by a simple, long-term Hedghog concept in order to succeed.
And I can certainly help them do this, but only if they are willing to step outside their preconceptions and open themselves up to trying a different approach. They need to give me some level of executive decision-making power and accept that they could possibly be proven wrong. They need trust in my process and be willing to let me address and adjust the whole of their business - not just one piece of the puzzle.
I've tried the piecemeal, patchworked approach to business many times and it can surely work to some extent. But not in times of crisis.
Time of crisis expose all of the vulnerabilities and weak spots in any plan or strategy. In an earthquake, buildings must be structurally fortified ahead of time in order to avoid major damage.
This is what I'm trying to help my clients achieve - a structurally sound business that can withstand the test of time no matter what inevitable disruptions occur.
So, let me know... how are you faring in this current global crisis? Have you invested the time and energy into building a structurally sound business?
These are important questions to consider, especially in today's world.