6 Post-Pandemic Strategic Business Planning Tips from the Pros
May 19, 2021 - The past year has put businesses across all industries to the test. Questions of resilience, adaptability, and "bouncing back" have been swirling since early 2020 – but successful businesses keep looking toward the future even as they’re coping with the present.
We checked in with Jeff Prouty, Founder and CEO of the business management consultancy Prouty Project, and Prouty Project VP Sam Smith for insights from strategic planning and leadership development experts. Here's what they had to say about lessons learned from the pandemic and how businesses can apply those lessons to strengthen their future.
How has the pandemic impacted business strategies?
Increased inclusion in discussions
Prouty notes that “one really impactful reality has been the inability to meet in person. Before the pandemic, two- and three-day off-site strategic planning sessions were common, with dinners and evening conversations as well as structured collaboration during the day. Suddenly, the environment was entirely virtual.” That’s been challenging, he acknowledges, but there has been a benefit, too: virtual meetings have greatly expanded inclusion.
Businesses have been able to draw in participants globally, involving more people who might not have attended in the past because of travel or time commitment challenges. Since remote conferencing is the norm, there's no expectation of travel, and short virtual meetings accommodate busier schedules.
Losing sight of the long-term
“Among our clients, we’ve seen reduced ability and/or willingness to look out into the future," Prouty says. "They needed to stay afloat, to keep the lights on. It’s hard to think three, five, or 10 years into the future – to be visionary – when your goal is short-term survival. When you’re successful, it’s easier to look out into the future. So while some of our clients are still knocking the ball out of the park, some are struggling.”
Interdependence in the supply chain means that plans to move equipment, products, or raw materials have gone off track for most businesses. “A company may have had customers waiting to buy,” Jeff notes, “but still not be able to sell due to logistical problems. For example, one of our clients is in the forklift and power equipment business, but they can’t get equipment” due to interruptions with manufacturers, distributors, and more.
International marketplace changes can also exacerbate those supply chain problems. For example, a shortage of 2 x 4 lumber means prices have quadrupled; computer chip shortages have limited production of some consumer electronics. Companies trying to move their businesses forward as the pandemic winds down still find themselves stymied by logistical issues, trade trends, and basic supply and demand.
Jeff Prouty (left) and Sam Smith of Prouty Project.
COVID-19 has made many businesses reflect on their internal strengths and weaknesses, particularly with a spotlight on the importance of strong leadership. Jeff explains that even signs of good business, like workload and progress toward company goals, can actually be “a salve to cover up corporate dysfunction" in times of stress – and the pandemic only made them harder to hide.
“Leaders who are spending all their time trying to keep up are not spending time on introspection," Jeff says. "Companies have the opportunity to contemplate what their business really needs in the way of leadership and what is needed in leaders themselves to make that happen."
What are your predictions for the future?
Virtual meetings are here to stay
There will be more collaboration after COVID-19 is under control than in the past, but it won't be the in-person kind. Businesses around the world have seen the time savings and additional perspectives virtual meetings allow, and Prouty and Smith are confident they won't go back.
In the past, a company’s senior leadership team may have met in person four times a year; from here on out, they may meet in person only twice a year but schedule more frequent virtual meetings in between. Prouty expects 50% of his own company’s business to be virtual going forward.
Tighter planning for course corrections
Smith points out that “some things haven’t changed as much as we think. We say, ‘Think 15 years out, but plan nearer term'." While some of Prouty's clients are still thinking big, businesses will need to tighten their timeframe because they'll need to be able to course-correct faster. Smith breaks it down into three sections: "Three-year strategic plan, one-year goals, 90-day attainment."
What do you recommend?
“Keep the change”
Smith talks about the importance of retaining positive changes businesses had to make as they adjusted to the new rules of doing business during pandemic. In fact, “Keep the Change” has become something of a new mantra for the Prouty Project as they pursue new business.
Dig deep to develop leaders
“Build a creative process that produces the best decisions for your business,” Prouty advises. That requires pushing deeper down into the organization – involving people who will be closest to execution gives them an opportunity to develop leadership skills. “Expect more from young leaders and draw them out in more ways,” he suggests. This may be easiest in companies where the virtual working environment has served to level hierarchy.
Focus on business innovation capacity
Following the pandemic, many businesses will be focused on new offerings and new ways of doing business – and new prospects will be expecting a lot from businesses that survived it. But Prouty stresses that leaders need to consider the skills and time that will be required to sustain that innovation, or risk abandoning them for lack of planning or support.
Eliminate or rethink real estate
For most businesses, the office of the future will look very different than before. Whether or not your business requires a physical presence, there are deeper concepts to consider around rebuilding the workplace. “Magnet vs. mandate” is a concept businesses are using to rethink the office and its impact on corporate culture in the wake of the pandemic. It holds that workplaces shouldn't be a 'mandate' for employees, but a 'magnet' that attracts and holds the right people.
Businesses will have to empathize more with employees – those who are in the office by choice, those who can't work from home, and those who can't be there in-person. Even with virtual operations, leaders still have to inspire individual initiative, so they must find ways to create a sense of excitement and belonging.
“Seize opportunity, whatever it is," Prouty says. "Some businesses at the beginning of the pandemic put strategic planning on hold, waiting till they could meet again. They’re finally getting around to calling a virtual meeting they could have done a year ago. Businesses need to keep going – you just need to figure out how to do it.”
Go from know-it-all to learn-it-all
“Be careful you don’t come out of the pandemic and lose your learning,” Smith warns. "We over-indexed on our expectations of 'normal.'" Business leaders have been involuntary participants in what will end up being a years-long, worldwide shared experience. "Everything was turned upside-down relatively easily. Now we need to remember how quickly things changed.”
Their advice for maintaining perspective: stay laser-focused on your customer. What they want, what they’re looking for – businesses can't let their numerous distractions interrupt that connection. Prouty and Smith believe that, moving forward, client focus will be even more critical than internal focus.
Email signatures from Prouty Project team members carry a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes: “A mind stretched by a new experience can never go back to its old dimensions.” Whatever things look like later this year, they'll never look exactly the same as they used to – a fact Prouty himself welcomes: “Learn, adapt, be curious, and act nimbly."