Strategy: Long and Short of Strategic Planning in Fluid Environments

Posted by Chuck Kocher
On May 7, 2020

It’s fairly obvious that “business as usual” no longer applies to any of us. That’s why, for the next few weeks I plan to focus on things we can do to keep moving forward—even in uncertain times. I plan to take a look at essential thinking, planning, and execution—in light of some of the challenges we all currently face. I’m also very aware that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. While we’re all affected by the spread of COVID-19, not everyone is impacted in the same way. I hope that the principles I’ll be sharing will help you move forward in a way that’s appropriate for your specific situation.



Strategy: Long and Short of Strategic Planning in Fluid Environments

I’ve written repeatedly about the need for solid strategic planning. But how do you plan strategically when the playing field is constantly changing? How can you take strategic initiatives for the future when nobody knows what the future is going to look like? It’s important to look at both the long and short of strategic planning in fluid environments.

These days we repeatedly hear comments about “the new normal.” The problem is, that nobody yet has a handle on what the new normal is going to be. We just know that things won’t operate the way they used to. That can be a bit unnerving, but guess what? That’s the kind of environment in which innovative and nimble companies thrive!

This Kind of Thinking Isn’t Anything New

When it comes to strategic planning, having short-range, mid-range, and long-range plans isn’t new. Smart, successful companies have been doing that kind of thinking and planning for years. In our current situation, we simply need to shorten the cycles a bit and think in terms of 30-day, 60-day, and 90-day cycles.

Short-Range (30-day) Plans

What are the things you need to focus on for the next 30 days to keep things moving forward? Are there changes will you need to make to stabilize operations and position yourself for growth? Can you make quick adjustments in terms of meeting customer needs as well as your own company’s needs?

Mid-Range (60-day) Plans

What are your plans for a little further out? What are the things you need to focus on to ensure survival and growth a couple of months down the road? You may need to think about payroll needs or other funding options. How are your clients and customers doing in terms of being able to pay? If it looks like there may be a gap, what resources are available to keep you going?

What did you learn as you evaluated your 30-day plans?

Long-Range (90-day) Plans

There is a lot of discussion about when our economy will “open up” again. Right now, there simply isn’t enough information to make a definitive decision. So how can you plan strategically? One thing to consider is what many financial planners do. They look at best-case, worst-case, and middle-ground scenarios. Then they keep their eyes on what’s happening in case they need to make a move. Having options from the beginning helps you avoid having to “reinvent the wheel” when making long-range plans.

You Don’t Need to Abandon Your BHAG

If you think that 90-day plans don’t seem like “long-range” plans, you’re right. You don’t need to give up on your BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goals) that may take years to accomplish—although it’s not a bad idea to revisit those mega-goals and assure yourself that they still make sense.  In times of uncertainty, however, it’s helpful to take smaller steps and constantly review and evaluate next steps.

You will, however, want to make sure that the 30-, 60-, or 90-day plans you create are specific enough to be effective, but flexible enough to adapt to changing needs. That requires more frequent evaluation (based on actual data). It also means continual, clear communication with your employees so that they understand changes—and why they’re being made. Constant change without communication creates chaos. Thoughtful change that’s clearly communicated builds trust.

The Power of the Pivot

One thing that shorter planning cycles provide is the ability to pivot more quickly. If done properly (with solid information gleaned for making decisions) this approach can enable you to take advantage of new opportunities. We’ve all read the stories of companies that were able to pivot from what they were doing and use their existing resources and expertise to meet a pressing need (and make a profit). Companies that distilled whiskey pivoted and made hand-sanitizer. Manufacturing companies tweaked their processes to make respirators. How can your company pivot?

Tools to Help in Times of Uncertainty

You are not alone in dealing with the changes brought on by COVID-19. There are tools available to help you deal with the disruption this crisis has spawned. Here are links to a few tools that can help you with some of the ideas mentioned above.

State Financial Relief Information for Small Businesses

Highlights from the Scaling Up “Re-N-Vent” Summit

John Maxwell’s “Leading Through Crisis” Webinar

Think Short-term and Long-term

In times of uncertainty, it’s easy to focus exclusively on current concerns. Of course, you need to do that, but you also need to keep a long-range perspective. The current crisis will pass. Keep in mind where you want to be down the road. Focus on the essentials of scaling. Avoid the traps that can sidetrack you when things finally settle down. I encourage you to download our free How to Avoid the Growth Traps eBook to help you do that.


Stay safe and keep scaling!