Strategic planning is designed to look out toward the horizon and visualize what your organization will be in 5, 10, 20 years, and then scale back to what you are going to do this year to start moving in that direction. You investigate a wide array of potential opportunities. Which will move you toward your vision? Which will deliver the greatest return? Which most closely match what is important to you as an organization? You select your strategies, plan out your work for the year, then head back to the office, confidently determined to get after the work and accomplish all that is set out in your strategic plan.
However, life typically does not go as planned. It is not uncommon for operating conditions to change over the course of the year, sometimes dramatically so.
For example, shortly into the plan, your CEO may get an offer from another organization and jump ship. Or a new competitor might move unexpectedly into your territory and begin to heavily target your customers. A change in condition can be positive as well. Perhaps your product is chosen to be distributed nationwide instead of just locally. Or a new app might show your business as the best in the area for your specialty, resulting in a flood of new, unanticipated business. At any point into your plan year, you may discover that your current operating environment is dramatically different from what it was during the plan’s creation.
Whether a windfall or a disaster, what do you do with your strategic plan when conditions change midstream? How do you keep the plan relevant and valuable in guiding your decisions?
There is a clear series of steps you can take to assure your plan stays current, the organization stays motivated and progress toward the vision continues.
- Clearly define the new condition. Is money tight? Is it abundant? Has new technology left you without a product…or with a wildly popular one? What has changed? Be very clear on what is different and why.
- Now pull out your plan. How does this change in condition impact your year-end target or goal? Is it still realistic or is it over- or understated? Write a new statement describing where you will be at the end of the year financially, in sales or number of clients, in staffing, etc. Be very clear on what you can accomplish and where you want to be at the end of the year with the new scenario in play.
- Turn to each strategic initiative or project on your plan and ask:
- In this new condition, is this project still viable and valuable?
- What parts of this project are important to continue as written regardless of condition?
- Does part or all of this project need to be modified or dropped?
- Make the needed changes to each project to assure it will continue to grow and/or strengthen the organization, stay relevant and truly be worth the effort it takes to accomplish the outcomes.
- Look at the plan as a whole, coupled with the changed condition. Do any new projects warrant consideration in the light of our current situation? If so, do the planning work needed to add the new project(s).
- Now consider the plan with both the new and the revised projects. Will this group of projects get you to your year-end target and address the change in condition? Make sure you do not have too much on your plate, particularly if you added a project or some outcomes.
Successfully addressing a significant change in your operating environment should start with how the change impacts your strategic plan. If your strategic plan is to fulfill its purpose, it must have as its base an accurate, current reflection of the conditions in your organization and the environment.
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