As a smarter man than I once mused, the times they are a changin’. And as myriad politicians, musicians, and dads who still wear bell bottoms have proven, if you don’t change too, you get left behind. Change, though, must not be reactive or random. Change must be intentional, designed, and directed towards an informed and intelligent future goal. If we allow our actions to be dictated purely by the emerging news of each day, we are no better off than a man dancing wildly as bullets land around his feet. While he may not yet have gotten shot, he sure as hell isn’t getting anything accomplished.
If your business already runs on the Entrepreneurial Operating System®, your team has already taken the time to make informed decisions around the future of your company. That’s something to be proud of. But like many others right now, you find yourself asking how to reconcile your existing strategic planning with the new reality of your industry’s situation.
So, let me give you some advice: your strategic planning tools are just that — tools.
Sounds a bit redundant, I know. But hear me out. As long as you’re still working toward a goal you must continue to use the tools. A tool that’s used once and put away isn’t going to continue to add value.
In a typical EOS implementation we normally revisit the 3-year picture™, the 1-year plan, the Accountability Chart™, and the Rocks™ during our annual planning session. Typically, I advise my clients not to go changing those documents all willy nilly, because a strategic planning document that you change every week isn’t a plan, it’s a goat rodeo. But, with the extreme changes we are going through, I’m reminding I am advising all of my clients and readers to take the time to pull out those tools, dust them off, and use them to evaluate whether your prior planning remains relevant, or whether the world has changed enough that it’s time to pivot.adjust course. In all likelihood you have already adjusted course on an informal level, reacting to the world around you. What I am asking you to do is to give yourself permission to take the time necessary to make truly strategic decisions and plans for your company in this crisis.
3 year picture
I think this evaluation best starts with reviewing your 3-year picture. You don’t want to throw out your 10-year target just yet. That target was a hard-won commitment, and our job as leaders now is to figure out how to get to the same destination over a potentially different past. As my son and I were preparing this blog he observed “if your current flight plan says ‘go straight’ and you’re headed toward a mountain you don’t just close your eyes and barrel mindlessly onward.”
My son, I have learned, is way smarter than he looks.
With that in mind, it’s time to sit down with your team to look at your 3-year picture. What do you truly think your business is going to look like in three short years? How many people, what products or services, facilities, technology, infrastructure — everything. Do your absolute best to visualize the business you believe you’ll be running in just 36 months.
Sure, we might not know everything there is to know about COVID, economic fallout, and a business landscape that could look radically different. But that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t do your absolute best – knowing what you NOW know — to make intelligent predictions and informed decisions around your company’s short-term future. While you may struggle to come up with exact numbers for your revenue and profit, the “what does it look like” section is pure gold to you right now. Leave no stone unturned in your mission to reexamine and reimagine your company’s priorities and plans. Visualize that company, and try to feel what it must feel like to BE in that company. Visualization is a powerful tool, one that can radically increase the likelihood of actually accomplishing what you envision.
You may be looking to seriously downsize your company. You may be sitting at a crossroads, needing to choose one product / service over another. You may also be ready to pounce on this transition as a huge opportunity for growth. The truth is that the specifics aren’t important. What’s important is that you are taking the time to predict where your company will stand — and where you want it to be standing — in 3 years.
In my line of work, I have to be the bearer of bad news sometimes. I hate that. But here’s some bad news.
It’s possible that not all the people working at your company right now will make it through this chapter in your business. Once you’ve worked worked through your 3-year picture and made significant changes, the chances are that you will need to reexamine your Accountability Chart as well. Now is a critical time to determine the best structure for your business going forward — and sometimes that means contraction — and the right responsibilities for people to own going forward.
When the plans of a company shift significantly, the structure and staff needed to enact that plan shift as well. In times of expansion, that means hiring new team members and shifting responsibilities to ease burdens on certain roles. In hard times, it means asking hard questions about what structure your company truly needs and can afford, and if the people in those chairs now are the right folks for the job. When businesses shrink, that typically means you have fewer people who often are called on to wear additional hats.
It’s a hard task. I’ve been there, and there’s nothing fun about it. . But as a business leader, your biggest responsibilities are to your company, your customers, and the people you can still gainfully employ going forward. Now is the time to take a hard look at your organizational structure, and The Accountability Chart is the tool you need to use.
1 year plan / Rocks
It’s entirely possible that you and your team have already rethought the annual and quarterly goals you set just a few short months ago. That is absolutely understandable. You wouldn’t be good leaders if you didn’t know how to think on your feet. If you haven’t already done that you should. Nothing is more disheartening to a team than being held to goals and commitments that are simply no longer reasonable.
I’m not encouraging you to give your team an automatic pass not to work toward the goals you originally set. What I am encouraging, however, is that you season that work with a heavy dose of our new reality so your team can immediately realign around annual goals that are realistic and achievable while still moving you toward your ultimate goals. One of the biggest mistakes you can make is letting a change of plans result in a lack of plans.
Revisiting your annual goals serves several critical purposes. First, it calibrates your team toward a future orientation of success rather than the failure that would have come from retaining unrealistic goals. Just as importantly, alignment around your new annual goals is the critical first step in determining what you need to be working on right now to achieve the best results. When we set our quarterly Rocks, the first thing we ask is “what absolutely must be done this quarter to make sure we stay on track to achieve these annual goals by the end of the year?” Rocks become simply the tactical commitments that must be made to make sure you actually execute your strategy.
I cannot properly stress (without employing interpretive dance, which I assure you no one wants to see) the importance of staying on top of your short-term planning and tactical execution in a moment like this. And the only way to make good decisions about today’s priorities is to evaluate your options in light of a realistic set of annual goals.
If you take away anything from this article, take this away:
Now more than ever, your leadership team needs to set Rocks this quarter and stay dedicated to thinking strategically.. Now more than ever, having and fulfilling clearly defined, measurable, strategic short-term executional commitments is the best way to continue your journey toward your long-term vision.
Meet the Founder
Jeff Whittle founded and launched Whittle & Partners in 2011. Before that, Jeff practiced law in Dallas for 15 years and has an additional 20 years of executive business experience. He has run businesses ranging from startups to 300-employee operations.