Calling current conditions for business “unpredictable” is like saying Voldemort has bad manners. Planning even a single year in advance seems like a leap of faith. But there are a few simple rules that can keep your strategic planning meaningful despite all the wild variables.
- Gather data. When the situation is in constant flux, you double your trouble by flying blind. Track data and trends in your company, your industry, and the economy at large like you never have before. DON’T FLINCH at every blip and wiggle in that data. DO use it to know precisely where you are and from which directions the winds are blowing. Tip: To prevent seeing what you want to see, have someone outside of the management loop (or even outside of the company) collect and analyze the data.
- Replace long-term strategy with a series of flexible short-term strategies. Run scenarios with your management team. If x happens, how would we respond? If y fails to happen, what is our backup plan? Even if all goes as expected, your team will gain tremendous mental agility through these exercises.
- Listen to dissenters. Unless you want to end up in a lifeboat, this is no time to surround yourself with “yes” men and women. As you plan for next year, take the concerns and ideas of those who disagree with you very seriously.
- Stay in tune with the changing needs of your customers. Any long-term strategic plan written three years ago and based on the needs of customers in 2008 is birdcage lining about now. Make sure that you have an effective and continual means of taking the pulse of your customer base.