I think it is a safe assumption to say that business has never been tougher, more difficult to plan, and less predictable than ever before in our Baby Boom, business lives. Many Chief Executives have done away with long term planning and instead have created the rolling eighteen month plan that they feel allows them to make faster adjustments on the fly. While this might seem reasonable on the surface, it may carry some unexpected performance challenges over the course of time.
I was in a meeting with a very solid team of Senior Executives a few weeks ago discussing some traction issues they were challenged with as business was flat-lined and The Board had started to dig into operations a bit more than before. The Team, normally aggressive and engaged, were frustrated and even a bit noticeably depressed. We stopped the normal business process and just talked for a while about things in general when the VP of Operations blurted out that he had no idea where the company was going anymore and had no idea how to contribute. They no longer had team goals and the company had done away with any formal planning process in favor of the fast-on-your-feet, plan in the moment management style. Even the CEO was fidgeting in his seat as it had been his idea to try something new to deal with the uncertainty of the business climate.
Good CEO’s know that planning is important for a host of reasons; Great CEO’s know that over the course of time, planning and strategy will win the day more often than not. There is however, a way to have your cake and eat it to and even eat it on the run if you have to!
If we are to get the gears turning again and play out some of the uncertainty we all deal with on a daily basis, there is nothing better than a solid dose of planning and strategic thinking. The difference is in the way we plan and the way we execute; that’s where we have a lot of room to grow. If you hired the very best people you could, and have surrounded yourself with “game changers”, there is one thing you need to understand. Strength needs purpose. Having a strong team is wonderful; having a strong team with a goal makes you unstoppable.
There are three basic concepts that can help you take some of the uncertainty out of the future and get your team going in the right direction with purpose.
First, bring economics into your culture; Board Meetings, Executive Staff meetings, general staff meetings, lead the discussion. If you do not know a lot about economics, see your Chair and ask for help because it’s not about your financial statements. I follow three Economists on a regular basis and I have to tell you, they bring hope, clarity and continuity to your world. Pick someone you like, someone you can understand, and someone who has a strong track record over a long period of time of solid predictability. Working with your key executives, develop an economic outlook that allows your team to develop their respective budgets to a tolerance of three percent +/-. That’s a six point split and should be able to cover most anomalies you could run into.
Second, get the team back in the saddle and give them meaningful time to think strategically about the economy, their business, and their industry. The day-to-day grind is hard on people and in the kind of weird space we are in right now, they need to break away from the constant barrage of texts, emails, and people challenges and get up on top of it again. As a CEO, set the direction of the organization, and also those timeless goals that create endearing culture and allow a team to focus their strength. Set the stage with your goals, and have the team develop multiple strategic initiatives by which to achieve them. This allows the team to select those initiatives that have the highest probability of being successful and leave the others in the war chest so that if things change they already know what to do.
Third, be relevant, always be relevant. As a CEO, you need to be sure that you are relevant. Are you deepening your relationships and are you out there finding out what’s going on? Is your Board relevant? Do they understand your business and are they bringing relevant value? Are they helping you develop yourself as a “game changer”? Is your team relevant? Are you helping them develop “game changing” skills?
If we are to get things back on track, we must not be afraid to step on a moving machine, and do so with flawless grace.
Ed Jenks is a 25 year veteran of the C-Suite having served as CEO in multiple turn-around management positions as well as a Master Strategist facilitating organizational planning for mid-tier companies. Jenks is the author of CEO: Point Blank, and a Principle and Senior Strategist at Solana Beach based TJGI Consulting.