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Business Strategy During A Global Pandemic

Anthony Boe, Business Growth Advisor at the Hub shares tips and tools available to help businesses redefine their strategy and develop an implementation plan to quickly respond to the changing economic environment.

When a business sets its strategy, it is normally based on the assumption it’s a piece of work that will sustain and inform their activities for several years, with business growth and success as a core goal. 

Under regular circumstances, strategic planning, when done well takes into account many factors including economic predictions, the future trading environment, competitor activity, technological advances, financial projections and changing customer needs. These insights then feed into a creative and coherent strategic plan that a company can use to move forward confidently.

As Louis Pasteur said: ‘fortune favours the prepared mind.’ If your company had done the necessary strategic thinking, then you will indeed be prepared and optimistic that the future holds great things for your firm.

That was until a global pandemic arrived - quickly, stealthily and with huge impact - leaving business strategies in a tailspin. The economy went into reverse, and even the most loyal of business clients had to socially distance themselves from anything but the most essential of purchases.

March 2020 saw a vast number of businesses close their premises, and huge numbers of staff were either furloughed or started to work from home. The government introduced unprecedented economic responses to help business and staff to weather the storm. As welcome as this support was, it won’t last forever.

COVID-19 has changed the business landscape for everyone. Few companies have not been affected by it in some way. While some of the changes may be temporary, some may present long-term challenges. We can be sure the future will remain in flux for quite some time yet as the business environment changes alongside our progress in combatting the virus.

Back To The Drawing Board

Charles Kettering said: ‘My interest is in the future because I am going to spend the rest of my life there.’ That effectively sums up where businesses find themselves in mid-2020. Re-planning for the future, adapting to the changes and looking for opportunities in a post COVID-19 world.

Some of these responses will necessarily be short-term in nature, just to keep things going. But many of these actions will be about adapting the business to a very different environment which may brim with new opportunities, innovations and ideas.

And that brings us back to strategy.  How can businesses quickly reconstruct their plans to meet the challenges ahead?  In a forest of well-worn business models which of them offers all the relevant content to enable the re-setting of strategy efficiently and flexibly? 

At the Business Growth Hub, we often use the VMOST framework.

What Is Business Strategy?

One of the pithiest definitions of business strategy comes from business giant Jack Welsh: ‘In real life, strategy is actually very straightforward. You pick a general direction and implement like hell’. That summarises how many businesses are operating under the shadow of COVID-19, irrespective of whether they’re struggling to survive or capitalising on unexpected opportunities.

A judicial and agile application of the VMOST framework developed by Rakesh Sondhi (Total Strategy1999) will undoubtedly help to define or redefine your strategy. So, let’s have a closer look.

VMOST

This model is designed to help a business to review their overall direction of travel by breaking it down into its essential parts.  It would typically take some time and supplemented by other approaches like a SWOT and PESTEL analysis and maybe frameworks like the Ansoff matrix or Porter’s 7 Forces model. 

However, businesses responding quickly to changing circumstances can just as easily use the VMOST to formulate their ideas and move swiftly to implementation. At times like these being ‘fleet of foot’ is a useful business trait.

 

Vision

A business vision is usually very aspirational and deliberately fuzzy. Look at famous vision statements like Oxfam: ‘A just world without poverty’ or Disney: ‘To make people happy.’  Both are great motivating statements but are long term in focus. Currently a vision is best left for the future when things normalise. However, once the situation settles this will become necessary so don’t forget. Maybe your future vision could be something like: ‘Safely meeting all our clients’ needs’?

Mission

Your Mission will be more critical as it may need to change to address the COVID-19 challenge. A good Mission uses SMART criteria and needs constant review.  Currently, your Mission may not be working and need temporary or permanent amendment.  A good example might be: ‘By end 2020 develop a resilient business that can serve our clients no matter the circumstances.’

Objectives

Objective or goals are what you want to achieve with your Mission; examples include: ‘By end 2020 we will have sustained our turnover at 75% of pre COVID-19 levels’. For businesses that are thriving, a good objective may be: ‘By end Q2 20 increase production of product x by 50% to meeting ongoing demand.’

You’ll also need to develop some KPIs to help you measure your progress against your stated objectives.

Strategy

The strategy is what you’ll do to meet your Mission. This may include developing new products, moving your business online, creating new partnerships to improve resilience, increasing your marketing to ensure your brand is well known or improving your speed of delivery. It also could include things like cost-cutting or radical changes to your business model.

Tactics

These are short term activities that help to support your strategy. They may include price discounting, increasing presence on social media or community outreach activity. It could equally include rapid changes to your organisation like creating relevant products, roles and capabilities that better support your Mission. 

 

 
The advantage of the model is it can be done quickly and helps you to build a strategy in a controlled, manageable way. It also allows for multiple changes in tack as the business environment changes. As we make our way through the COVID-19 crisis, we can assume the strategic horizon will move ever-further away. Before then, for those who have fervently grasped the strategy nettle some valuable and enduring insights and changes may have been achieved.

Tips For Strategy Development During A Pandemic

As you conduct your strategic planning, there are a few useful tips to add to your thinking. The following will make the process easier and simpler. It may also include some actions you wouldn’t usually have considered in a COVID-19 free world. But circumstances may need you to change your thinking, so an open mind is essential!

Leadership is key:
If ever there were a time for effective leadership, it’s now. Employees will long-remember those who stepped up and displayed the right combination of strength, accountability and empathy in the COVID-19 crisis of 2020. Being a good communicator will certainly add value too. For those with the ‘right stuff’ the call to action has arrived, it’s time to make your mark.

Focus on People Instead Of processes:
Under challenging times, it’s people who make a difference.  A team of skilled and motivated people with a remit to make a change is much more critical than doggedly following and developing processes. Get the right people involved with your strategy development and encourage their ideas and insights.

Be Flexible: 
In such a dynamic situation, worrying about minutiae is futile. Your vision and ambition to strive or thrive are much more important than managing every last nuance. Set yourself up to respond to changes as they arrive and expect regular internal and external challenges to your assumptions and decisions. 

Collaborate: 
If there was ever a time in business where collaboration is needed, it’s now. Going at it alone may not cut it. Look for cross-functional collaboration internally but also with suppliers, stakeholders, logistics providers or even competitors. Some of these approaches may only be temporary, but they could make all the difference.

Keep It Simple (KISS): 
This is not a time for dense multi-page documents. The adage ‘keep it simple, stupid’ should always be in play. The agile approach of single-page documents that are action-oriented with crystal clear communications are the order of the day. It makes things easier to track and more straightforward to change. 

Strive And Thrive

Strategic planning is a vital activity for any business big or small, but it would be a very far-sighted firm who predicted COVID-19.

However, the same rules broadly apply—those of taking a systematic and considered approach to the response and being clear-sighted about the resulting actions. While the business environment may have changed radically, those firms who face down the issues head-on using models like the VMOST are most likely to make it through to the other side. 

Let’s finish with one last quote from business academic Michael Porter, one that sums up our theme perfectly: ‘The Company without a strategy is willing to try anything.’

Don’t let that be your firm.

For more information on redefining your Coronavirus strategy and other business issues, call us on: 0161 237 4128 or email us at: hereforbusiness@growthco.uk

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Anthony Boe

Anthony Boe, Business Growth Advisor

Anthony has over 25 years’ professional experience built within a number of blue chip and public organisations, which include, telecoms, banking and training organisations. 

He has extensive experience of project and programme management, quality management, process improvement and innovation development. He has worked as a volunteer director in the performing arts sector and built his business advisory skills working for Business Link and Pera Training.  In addition to having an MBA, Anthony is SFEDI accredited, qualified in Lean Six Sigma, is a Prince2 practitioner and has a diploma in Action Coaching.

The information provided is meant as a general guide only rather than advice or assurance. GC Business Growth Hub does not guarantee the accuracy or completeness of this information and professional guidance should be sought on all aspects of business planning and responses to the coronavirus. Use of this guide and toolkit are entirely at the risk of the user. Any hyperlinks from this document are to external resources not connected to the GC Business Growth Hub and The Growth Company is not responsible for the content within any hyperlinked site.

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