I was talking to a client the other day about the Coronavirus and how their organization was struggling with what to do with their organizational strategy. Despite their training, they didn’t seem to know where to start. Their uncertainty was understandable, as there is no simple answer for how to react to a once-in-a-generation crisis. And planning principles don’t directly address many of the organizational operational decisions they were making related to safety and resources.
But once the dust settles a bit and the new normal emerges, the planning principles they have learned should be useful for framing the many strategy conversations needed. The basic principles of planning are the same whether creating an organizational strategic plan or responding to a major strategic environmental shift such as a pandemic. Below I have taken the planning stages of our Nine Steps to Success™ methodology (Steps 1-6) and reframed them in the context of planning after a major disruption.
Step 1: Assessment
The Assessment step is about information gathering (both internal and external) to better understand where things currently stand. It is the step where any assumptions we have made about our strategic environment (such as if our entire society is functioning normally!) are reconsidered. We want to identify challenges (threats and weaknesses) and enablers (opportunities and strengths) and use other assessment tools to understand the status quo and inform strategy formulation. Obviously, the public reaction to the virus is very fluid and separating the facts from the hype is not always obvious, and so every planning session should begin with an update on the current status, using reputable sources. You’ll want to assess your own unique set of risks. The parallel to personal risk is worth noting. In terms of the pandemic, some people personally are risking their lives, others are risking their careers, while some fortunately have a relatively low risk for personal harm beyond losing day-to-day conveniences (for now). From an organizational risk standpoint, where does your organization fit along that type of spectrum? Are you likely to shut down permanently, are you riding out a temporary slowdown, or will things in your organization continue to function the same, albeit with employees working from home?
Step 2: Strategy
During the Strategy step, high-level strategies are developed, and desired outcomes are identified. Various scenarios are considered, and the organization describes in broad terms how it creates value for customers. Focus areas are selected, and the definition of success is articulated so that we are sure that we are all in agreement about what we are trying to accomplish. While organizational planning might lend itself to, for example, Operational Excellence or Strategic Partnering themes, planning for a pandemic might include focus areas such as Employee Health or Online Services. For each focus area, measurable results (goals) should be articulated.
Step 3: Objectives
The high-level outcomes defined in Step 2 need to be broken down into component steps. As a team, we want to develop a consensus about what continuous improvement activities are required to achieve our goals. These are the step-by-step outcomes to which we will align our measures, targets, and initiatives. If Online Services is our theme, we might have strategic objectives around the results we’re trying to achieve (e.g. Increase Online Service Revenue, Increase Online Service Sales, etc.) or the drivers of our strategy (e.g. Improve Online Service Development, Improve Online Infrastructure, Improve Online Meeting Facilitation Skills, etc.).
Step 4: Strategy Map
Steps 3 and 4 go hand in hand as we develop a common understanding of the relationships between the Objectives. With a Strategy Map, we answer questions such as How do we connect the dots between drivers of success and desired outcomes? What internal improvements are needed to achieve desired external outcomes? How do we best communicate that cause-effect story to employees? To build on some of the objective examples listed above, for example, in Step 4 we create a graphical depiction of strategy that makes it clear to employees learning online meeting facilitation skills what outcome they are ultimately supporting.
Step 5: Measures & Targets
It is not enough to say we want to increase online sales in the abstract. If we want to make it happen, we must identify exactly what sales we are counting and what level of performance we want. We must track that performance over time to understand if we are making progress or not. For every objective on our strategy map, we will develop measures and targets.
Step 6: Initiatives
A plan isn’t useful until it is executed. During Step 6, we identify and prioritize the initiatives we plan to execute in order to make things happen. One initiative might be to build out the online infrastructure and another would be to develop the services. We will likely have many improvement ideas and will want to use a systematic process for filtering the number down to a manageable few.
While Steps 1-6 of the Nine Steps follow a simple, linear path to develop a balanced strategic plan, the rollout effort, combined with Step 7 (Analysis), Step 8 (Alignment), and Step 9 (Evaluation) are more ongoing and disparate activities. Analysis efforts focus on getting evidence in the hands of decision makers. Alignment activities cascade strategy to different units and employees within the organization. Evaluation looks at the plan itself and the results we are getting.
For more information about the Nine Steps methodology, visit our Nine Steps summary page or take our Balanced Scorecard Professional Certification program , which, incidentally, is now available in a live online format!
David Wilsey is the Chief Executive Officer with the Balanced Scorecard Institute and co-author of The Institute Way: Simplify Strategic Planning and Management with the Balanced Scorecard.