I may be showing my age, but I can still remember teaching one of my first strategic management courses at the local university back in the late 1990s. The concept of business strategy has always been a main topic in any management course. However, over the years, the true meaning of business strategy has evolved immensely. When I was in front of that class in the 90s, I talked about strategic planning as long-term, intermediate, and short-term planning. At that time, businesses conducting strategic planning looked ten years into the future. Short-term planning, sometimes called operational planning, was one-to-three years. 

Today, like everything else in our society, the speed of strategic planning has intensified. Whether due to technological advances, competitive forces, or simply our desire as humans to quickly progress, what was once considered operational planning is now strategic planning. 

It is not uncommon for today’s modern organization to develop strategic planning for a one- to three-year timeframe. Projecting ten years, however – that’s merely a vision. Organizations in today’s 21st-century workforce are more versatile and agile, allowing them to develop and change strategic initiatives more quickly than possible in the past. Clients with whom we work in developing their strategic plan are told that even a one- to three-year plan needs to be a working document, revisited on a continual basis, and changed accordingly depending on factors such as the environment, competitive movement, political decision making, and consumer wants. 

In the past 90 days, even the notion of having a one- to three-year strategic plan has come into question and is being tested. During a crisis, organizations quickly revert to emergency planning or contingency analysis. The strategic plan that meticulously took months – or even a year – to develop is shelved so that the organization can turn to immediate needs of survival. These strategic plans were based on different conditions, and now we’re living in a new world. Some things will be constant, some will need to adapt, and some will have to radically change. 

A revised strategy allows organizations to create the right framework for decision making during this time. Therefore, organizations are switching from strategic planning to “strategic sprinting.” These short, intentional bursts of strategic executions allow an organization to quickly maneuver through rapid environmental disturbances and unchartered waters while navigating and overcoming the crisis. Businesses must have a sense of urgency. This is not to say that the organization’s mission and vision are completely revised or discarded; however, the method to achieving the long-term sustainability of the organization essentially comes down to the ability to adjust quickly, plan efficiently, and aggressively play defense.  

When considering strategic sprints, organizations should think through three areas of concern. 

Business continuity

A well-designed business continuity plan ensures the continued delivery of critical services and products during times of uncertainty or an unexpected interruption in daily business practices. Some situations, however, are never planned for. If we look at the 9/11 attacks, the financial crisis, and now a global pandemic, having a business continuity or contingency plan for these types of situations was probably not a realistic initiative. Nevertheless, it is time for organizations to revert to whatever planning was in place and utilize any component of that plan during this short-term crisis. For example, how will the organization maintain operational consistency? What is the communication plan for any given crisis? How will the organization sustain client interaction and partnerships? What is the plan for revenue sustainability? And so on. Organizations may not have specifically planned for such a crisis as we are experiencing today, but whatever is included in the business continuity plan should be immediately enacted. Urgency is the key!

Strategic agility

Short-term strategic sprints require organizations to pivot and adapt quickly. During a crisis, there are multiple unknowns. Sometimes calculated risks and decision making based on known information is the best an organization can do when implementing emergent strategies. The goal is to be flexible, willing and ready to change, and to make decisions quickly based on whatever information is known. This is no time to wait until “things blow over.” The goal of leadership is to quickly rally the troops behind the short-term strategic sprints. In doing so, initiatives can be rapidly implemented. In my last blog, I discussed the importance of organizations positioning themselves for the post-pandemic workforce and explained how to remain competitive, financially sound, and even better than they were prior to the crisis. 

Reinvent the organization

These short-term strategic sprints are also a time to look at how the organization can permanently change. It is an opportunity to reassess every resource allocation, operational process, marketing initiative, customer service activity, financial structure, etc. to determine what can permanently be changed or eliminated moving forward. McKinsey recently published an article and called this a time of “organizational unfreezing.” A time when organizations completely reinvent themselves. In a sense, smart organizations are experiencing a rebirth. Companies have adapted quickly during the recent crisis. With that, new ways of doing things have urgently been implemented, and successfully proven. Now is the time for organizations to ask themselves, “Who are we?”, “How are we (or can we) doing things better?”, and “How can we continue to grow?”. Changes that are working should be added to permeant strategies as the organization emerges from the crisis.   

Business is like a race. There are many times when running the marathon makes sense. However, the current environment demands organizations who wish to be successful to position themselves at the starting line for a very intense and adrenaline-filled sprint. Get ready to run!