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COVID-19: Why Strategic Planning is Most Important in an Uncertain Economy?

Henry Dumas

In an uncertain economy, human beings tend to hunker down, focus on surviving, freeze, feel overwhelmed, tend to be change adverse, and simply try to hold on! Stress is up, communication is down.

One way to stay pro-active and avoid knee-jerk reactions to economic changes is to conduct a strategic planning session. Keep a couple of things in mind while you embark on your planning efforts in the midst of uncertainty: 1) create a plan that is also adaptable (for example develop several if-then statements and develop some basic scenarios of how you might need to adjust the plan), and 2) pay attention to fundamental structural changes that would point to entirely new or adjusted approaches. With those things in mind, then, the conscious and intentional act of planning can be very helpful. Re-visit your purpose as a company, what has made you successful, sometimes called core competencies. Conduct current marketing research, examine the market and your customer’s/client’s needs: how have they changed in light of the recent turmoil and what changes to your business are necessary to meet their new reality? Where can you realistically pivot in the short, or medium term (planning for 30 – 90 – 180 day - time horizons may be helpful until things stabilize)? What is possible in this current environment, and have any new, or previously hidden opportunities (or threats) emerged? Are there opportunities to invest (for example, even while conserving cash in uncertain times, perhaps you now have the bandwidth to sharpen skills or pursue training for you and your team).

Below are a list of areas/questions which will help you to plan strategically:

Positioning:

  • Describe the product or service solution we provide to the marketplace in a single sentence. How might that one sentence change in this new-normal environment?
  • What is our geographic, demographic market scope and what are our distribution channels?
  • Who is our ideal customer and what are their top five (5) characteristics?
  • What is our Brand Promise? Does it differentiate us, is it measureable, does it fill the ideal customer’s need?
  • What customer segments offer us the greatest opportunity over the next three years?
  • What are our most promising product/service categories over the next three years and why?
  • What do customers most want from our class of product or service?

 

Core Competencies & Strengths (internal—things we can leverage):

  • What does our firm do better than anyone else in our industry and which of our core competencies allow us to do that?
  • Which of these items is most important and why?
  • What are the inherent strengths of the organization that have been the source of our success?
  • List the five (5) most important measurements of success for our company and indicate how our firm has performed against those measures over the past two years? 

Weaknesses (internal—things we can improve):

  • What are the inherent weaknesses of our organization? What can we do to improve or mitigate those?
  • What is the state of learning on our team? What are we reading or not reading that needs to change?
  • Which lower priority activities could we stop doing? And, if our firm ceased these activities, to which strategic areas should we redirect the time, energy, and resources?
  • If our firm lived up to its full potential, how would it be different three years from today?
  • What are the three (3) most important things that our firm needs to accomplish in the next twelve months to assure that our firm reaches its full potential?

Opportunities (external—things we can potentially influence or anticipate):

  • What are the four (in each category) most significant changes in technology, distribution, product innovation, markets, consumer, and social trends around the world that might impact our industry and organization?
  • Have the structural changes that are emerging created any “daylight” we might be able to fill?

Threats (external—things we must watch and be ready to respond to):

  • What worries me most about our firm’s future?
  • What strategies can we employ to reduce/minimize those risks?
  • What are the four greatest challenges currently facing our firm?

Competitive Analysis:

  • Who are our competitors? Have they changed in response to the crisis (mergers, shifts in distribution methods, etc.)?
  • What advantages does our firm have over our competition?
  • What advantages do our competitors offer that our firm does not?
  • Which are the most important to the long-term success of our firm?
  • How do we want our customers to differentiate us from our competitors?

Outcomes to Consider:

As you set out to engage in strategic planning even while things are still uncertain, seek to gain clarity in terms of what you can and cannot control. Open lines of communication between the management team & staff, highlight and re-commit to core values. If you still have some working remotely, this may have to be more frequent and intentional than was previously “normal.” Consider what strategic changes need to be made to best leverage your firm’s strengths in this uncertain economy. Finally, be pro-active, be adaptable, and continue to move forward. Uncertain economic times and the structural shifts they bring will illuminate great opportunities for those who are positioned well, pay attention as things continue to shift, and have a plan for leveraging them.

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