Successfully Pivoting Your Personal Strategy in Times of Change
(Originally appeared in the April 15th, 2020 'Across the Board' publication, a Board Director, Board Advisor, C-Level, and Business Leader publication reaching 26,000+ exceptional business leaders in over 70 countries with articles focused on leadership, strategy, and governance topics - sign up here)
As Warren Buffet once famously said, "Only when the tide goes out do you discover who's been swimming naked." This is quite a poignant statement that resonates even more deeply during times of global crisis - both from professional and personal viewpoints. From a Board's-eye view, there are currently many companies that have been 'swimming naked,'with a host of examples ranging from overzealous stock buyback actions (which created high-debt / low-cash predicaments), sorely lacking Business Continuation Planning (BCP) & Disaster Recovery (DR) readiness (which elevated employee stress and exposed countless company risks), and the inability to effectively communicate a viable plan to a scared and leadership-hungry workforce (additionally elevating employee stress and shareholder uncertainty). These are just to name a few instances witnessed over the past few weeks. Make no mistake, these shortcomings are unequivocally a goals & strategy issue - and they are highly damaging.
In my September 2018 article, 'Why Do Boards Continue to Struggle With Strategy?,' I attempted to tackle the underlying strategy challenges that are becoming chronic for organizations, and mainly Boards, worldwide. In my experience, it comes down to two simple things: a) lack of understanding of what 'strategy' truly is, and b) a belief that governance duties supersede strategic duties. At the concept's core, you need to deeply understand what the organization's strategy is in order to govern it properly, hence strategy over governance. We have all heard and obliged the request to "join our strategic planning meeting" or "please review our strategic plan," only to attend and/or witness that not only are clear goals missing or not in alignment, but low-level tasks or irrelevant topic areas are discussed. These misunderstandings and misalignments regarding strategy are exacerbated during times of crisis, sometimes with unbelievable consequences.
Properly understanding, defining, and communicating goals and supporting strategies is not only important for organizations, but equally important for individuals. You might have noticed that many savvy leaders have remained calm during these recent trying times... but what makes them different? How are they able to stay so cool and collected in the face of such adversity? The answer is quite simple. They own 'their' personal plan, meaning they own their own personal goals and strategy, in addition to being aligned with their organization's professional plan, goals, and strategy. Yes, everyone should be aligned to two sets of goals and strategies - one for themselves and one for their organization. The closer these goals and strategies intersect, the more you realize that your job, responsibilities, and aspirational 'future you' are synchronized. The further apart, the more you feel frustrated, trapped, and unfulfilled, essentially on a path to nowhere.
There is a simple way to think about setting goals and strategy, and best of all, it is universal for both organizations as well as personal applications. Years ago, while looking for the most effective way to advise companies, Boards, and individuals on proper goal setting and strategic planning, I created the following simple diagram as a starting point to easily describe the concept pictorially. I still reference the attached diagram often as a reminder to myself and those I am working with.
As with any strategic planning exercise, the key is to start with goal setting first. Define your 'what' (and maybe add in your 'why,' for those in love with Simon Sinek). Don't make the mistake of jumping into defining your tasks next, as you have to first define 'how' you are going to reach these goals. Your 'how,' or strategy, essentially forces you to define your areas of focus as well as your approach. You will quickly find there are multiple options when it comes to building your strategy, always defined by the three pillars of budget, scope, and time. Remember that the strategy should never define the goals - the goals should influence the strategy. Next, move onto defining your tasks to support your strategy and your goals. Keep in mind that you want to make all of these areas measurable.
Coming full circle to the concept of setting your own personal goals and strategy, it inherently makes the checks & balances of evaluating whether or not you are 'on track' for what you want to accomplish much easier. Think about the person who did not have their personal goals, strategy, and supportive tasks defined at the point when the pandemic hit. They were essentially in absolute turmoil, not having a way to understand what areas of their goals, strategy, or tasks were going to be affected (because they didn't exist). It is impossible to pivot from something that doesn't exist. Now think about the person who had previously clearly defined their personal goals, strategy, and supportive tasks when the pandemic hit. They were able to immediately evaluate what goals would likely be affected and possibly require a tweak, full change, or deletion for a defined time period. They were able to immediately evaluate if their strategy ('how' they would accomplish their goals) would be affected and if it required a rework or different approach.
With prepared goals and strategy in place, an easy pivot can be accomplished based on any encountered circumstances. Do you see the calming effect this can have on your personal life, even in times of dire crisis?
Have you properly constructed your personal strategy?
Reach out directly to Mark A. Pfister to create or pivot your personal, professional, or Board strategy with his Consulting & Advisory offerings & International Speaking Tour topics. (all offerings also available for online and video conference sessions)
About the Author: In addition to serving on numerous Boards, Mark A. Pfister is a renowned Board Consultant, 'Board Macro-Influencer,' certified Board Director, speaker, author, and advises public, private, and nonprofit Boards in efficient and effective operations. Known as 'The Board Architect,' he is the inventor of the 'Board as a Service' (BaaS) engagement model and an expert Project Executive frequently advising on strategic global initiatives in their initiation and operational phases...... << read full bio here >>