Updated: Apr 3, 2020
Let’s face it, most of us did not include assumptions around a global pandemic and the severe impact it would have on the economy in our 2020 planning, yet here we are. There is so much we cannot control right now in the economy and with COVID-19. Due to that, many are inclined to put our heads down and focus on what we can control. Just execute what we have always done.
The reality is that with a significant economic disruption playing out live around us, old markets are disappearing, new markets are emerging. Things that customers valued a month ago will likely be different in two months.
We are likely at the beginning of a great reset. If you keep your head down just executing on your plan, you will miss a real opportunity to be on the front end of the transformation.
Your first focus should be on the safety and health of your customers and employees. You have no business without them. But after that, what should you do? How do you “keep the lights on” while preparing your company for what is to come?
With those questions in mind, here is a 5-step approach for evolving your Growth Strategy in a crisis:
Step 1: Stabilization
Like in treating a patient in the ER, the priority in a crisis is to stabilize your business. Stabilization is critical and is aligned with that first instinct to put your head down and execute the plan. As the world and economies are changing around us, it is essential to keep the lights on.
Stabilization should focus on what does it take to keep the business going -- serving your customers, delivering your value, taking care of your stakeholders -- with the lowest amount of resources, and doing that. If that budget item is not needed, cut it. If you can keep the operations running with one less person, do.
Stabilization is about preparing the company for the pending transformation due to the expected great reset. It comes with some tough decisions, especially with budgets and headcount. To succeed, you need to find the right balance between keeping the lights on, reducing costs, and positioning your company to thrive through and coming out of this challenging period. That last part is vital, positioning your company to succeed through and coming out of this period. Do not blindly cut all costs and resources to the bare bones. Make sure you allocate resources to help with the transition and put your company on the front-end of whatever is next.
A final thing to consider in stabilization is maximizing your cash on hand. Every expert I have been reading is suggesting businesses draw on their credit lines immediately to ensure they have the cash to make it through a crisis.
Once you have achieved stabilization, it is time for the next step, Growth Triage.
Step 2: Growth Triage
With the assumptions and actual market knowledge you used to make your Growth Strategy for 2020 likely all in limbo, you need to get agile. Times of change and transition provides a real opportunity, but they are also very turbulent. The Growth Triage offers a foundation to consider both.
The third key element of my key elements for Growth Strategy, ‘Identify Growth Opportunities,’ is at the center of the Growth Triage step. This step focuses on near-term growth opportunities; we will get to the long-term Growth Strategy aspects in Step 5.
To do this, get everyone’s ideas for what you could do to get growth in the near-term. These ideas could be related to your core business, the crisis, new areas to provide value, whatever. Document them with a high-level definition of the opportunity and score them objectively to create a ranked list of growth opportunities.
Key to this is the “score them objectively” part, as this will help you quickly get some focus for prioritization. While voting with dots or Reddit style vote up/vote down could work, I recommend getting a little more objective and using a scoring system. As the focus is on near-term growth, I suggest scoring each opportunity in three areas: Revenue/Profit Impact, Time to Impact, and Ability to Execute Confidence. I like to use a 5-point scale for each, with 1 being the worst (low impact, long time to impact, low ability to execute) and 5 being the best (high impact, short time to impact, high ability to execute.)
With this done, you now have a prioritized list of near-term growth opportunities. Review the list and choose the two or three opportunities where you will focus. You could choose to focus them on the core business, or on what can you do to help with the crisis, or purely what you think has the best chance of success. The key is to let the scores inform your decision, not make your decision. Given the turbulence and uncertainty in the market, you may want to have a ranking of your top five opportunities to give you a little runway, but make sure to focus on only two or three at a time.
Once you have determined which two or three growth opportunities you are going to focus on in the near-term, time for the next step Action Plan.
Step 3: Near-Term Growth Action Plan
To turn the opportunity into a reality, you need to start with a Near-Term Growth Action Plan. For each growth opportunity you chose to focus on, it is time to make a plan of how to realize the opportunity. What do you need to learn or do to move this opportunity forward?
When doing traditional Growth Strategy work, I suggest Action Plans should be 90-days and reviewed quarterly. In a time of crisis, turbulence and rapid change where we are focused on near-term opportunities, I recommend making your Action Plans 30-days or even 15-days (hence the Near-Term Growth Action Plan name to the step). This shortened focus will give you the ability to frequently take into consideration what you are learning, how the market is changing, and what results you see to provide yourself with the best chance to adapt and succeed.
Each Action Plan should have a clear owner, a definition of key assumptions (so that you can adapt your plan if they change), the next steps, and success criteria defined.
Once you have developed the Action Plans, you can move to the next step Near-Term Growth Execution.
Step 4: Near-Term Growth Execution
You have stabilized the core business, completed a growth triage to identify two or three near-term growth opportunities to pursue, and built action plans for each of them; now, it is time to execute. As I mentioned in stabilization, you do not want to blindly just cut all of your resources as you will need some to execute on your near-term growth opportunities.
The owner of each action plan should also be accountable for the execution of that plan. Being accountable does not mean they do it themselves, but that they lead the execution efforts.
As you are in uncertain times, take the adage of fail fast literally. At every stage of execution, the leader of the plan needs to evaluate if what they are seeing, learning, or doing is consistent with the assumptions you made and what you thought you knew for sure during the growth triage.
Use daily and weekly meetings to track progress, resolve issues, and make tough decisions if you need to, with the main focus on the prize. Turn the near-term growth opportunity into real growth.
With the urgent work of stabilization, growth triage and action planning done, and execution kicking off, you are now ready for the final step, a Growth Strategy Reset.
Step 5: Growth Strategy Reset
The first four steps are about making it through the crisis, optimizing costs, and near-term growth opportunities. Step 5 is about taking a step back and resetting your long-term Growth Strategy based on the change and disruption.
I advise companies that they should review and update the foundational elements of Growth Strategy on an annual basis but note that in times of disruption or unexpected significant changes in their markets, they should do it more frequently. A crisis like this is one of those times.
These foundational elements are “Define Your Core” and “Know Your Playing Field.” Take this reset to review your Core Strategy and see if the changes happening could impact your core business, market, differentiation goals, and update them if needed. More importantly, it is time to do a deep dive to make sure you know and understand your playing field fully. Market segments emerge, disappear, and morph during disruption, and this creates opportunity along with risk.
Do a deep dive into understanding your existing and potential adjacent market segments. See what is changing and where new needs may be emerging. Look for unexpected successes and failures. These could be tea leaves as to shifting markets and value propositions. Update and adjust your market segments and product categories and engage with customers in those playing fields and see how the change is impacting them. Identify new and changing needs where you could provide incremental value to the market.
With this foundation reset and your knowledge of your playing fields refreshed and updated you are ready to “Identify Growth Opportunities” and “Focus Your Strategy” for a long-term Growth Strategy.
More importantly, take this time to “Make it an Ongoing Process.” Growth Strategy is a living thing. As you learn more about the market, as you prove or disprove assumptions, your Growth Strategy should evolve.
You can learn more about Growth Strategy and my approach on my website at https://www.growthstrategylabs.com/growth-strategy.
How to start and an offer
Sometimes we cede to momentum. Put our heads down and just keep doing what we have been doing. That is not how change happens, especially in a crisis.
Take a breath. Take a step back and decide to take some time to get proactive. Schedule a meeting, block your calendar off for a day, whatever it takes, but get started with Step 1 and figure out what you need to Stabilize your business. Once you feel like you are in a good place, take that same time you used for Step 1 and start on Step 2 and do a Growth Triage. One step in front of the other, complete one, start the next.
It is not easy, but the sooner you get proactive, the better chance you will be giving your company of getting through this, minimizing risks and capitalizing on opportunities.
Due to cancellations of in-person sessions over the next few weeks due to COVID-19, I have some time on my hands, and I want to help. As I do not know your business, I do not think I could offer much value in the Stabilization step outside of what I said above – choose to make the time and do it. Where I can add value is helping you plan and get started on a Growth Triage. Here is a Calendly link for a 40-minute Growth Triage call: https://calendly.com/grantwhunter/growth-triage
As long as I have space in my schedule, I will keep my calendar open for these calls. Schedule a call. I want to help. No strings attached.
These are difficult and uncertain times. Choose to get proactive. Choose to evolve your Growth Strategy and position your company for a higher chance of success.