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This Is Not the Time to Ditch Strategy in Your Business

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Mike Brown

There's no need to become overwhelmed with the idea of strategizing, Mike Brown says. Business owners can break down the process into manageable 30-minute sessions and come up with real plans that result in real improvements.

Planning for the new year might seem especially daunting given the rollercoaster of 2020, but Mike Brown says this isn’t the time to wing it. “You don’t want to throw out strategy when things are uncertain.”

Brown, founder of The Brainzooming Group, which helps businesses focus on strategy, branding and innovation, is a repeat Specialty Equipment Market Association (SEMA) speaker. He tackled what might seem like an unlikely combination during a SEMA360 session: uncertainty and strategy.

First, Brown says business owners need to accept that Jan. 1 isn’t going to bring an end to the uncertainties of 2020.

“We’re in this period of disruption right now and that’s going to continue. That won’t change on January 1st.”

He suggests leaders think about strategy in a different way. He’s broken down a timeless analysis tool into 30-minute exercises, and given each step a COVID-19 spin. The exercises can be done one at a time and, when broken apart into smaller pieces, Brown says they ultimately make the process more manageable and less daunting.

SWOT

Analyzing the four elements of SWOT is a classic technique: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. Here’s a look at Brown’s roadmap for SWOT in 2020, broken down into eight 30-minute strategy sessions.

Strengths

1. Here’s the starter question. Right now, what’s the new thing that’s important to you? Is it attracting new customers? Winning back former customers? Transitioning to a new way of operating? Does the whole business need to pivot? Brown suggests business owners and managers rank these 10 tasks to determine what is the most critical, and then focus on what lands at the top of the list.

  • Reconnecting with previous customers
  • Minimizing barriers for doing business
  • Growing long-term revenue
  • Attracting new prospects
  • Distancing your brand from current limitations
  • Maximizing productivity
  • Changing operating models
  • Flexing capacity
  • Expanding audience options/finding ways to deal with restrictions
  • Adapting our product/services for the current environment

2. Day to day we look at things from the same point of view, and in the process, we lose the detail. Brown used the Gateway Arch in St. Louis as his example. It’s easy to picture in the city skyline. But it looks completely different from the church next door, or when lying on the ground looking up. When up close, you can see marks and evidence of graffiti near the base.

So take a new look from other angles — from the eyes of your customer, or even your competitor.

Weaknesses

3. There are invisible things, such as a virus, and technological advances, like the internet, that you can’t anticipate but affect business just the same. They’re not always big and scary, Brown says. But it’s good to take time to look at where your business is right now. What’s helped you get through? Are there things you’ve bandaged together to keep them running in 2020? What happens if those things fail now?

Brown says this isn’t about “traditional weaknesses in business, because again, we’re not in a traditional time right now. What are the pressure points that could fail in the months ahead?”

Opportunities

4. Brown says if your brand existed before March 1 and exists today, it’s changed — “even if you think you’re the same.” Your customers, their expectations, and how they think about you, has changed. They’ve adapted to lots of changes in everyday life in recent months, from curbside services and online ordering to video conferences, and their expectations of you are likely different from what it was in 2019.

Ask these three questions: What are your customers expecting from you? What would they accept from you?  And what will they reward you with?

“If you can find the right combination of what they expect, what they’ll accept you doing and what they will reward you for doing, that’s a great platform for innovation opportunities,” Brown says.

5. Brainstorm a list of other things — it could be a business, an organization, an everyday tool or service — that performs the same general tasks your business offers. We’re not talking about another store that sells tires or performs oil changes. Think of it with a wider lens: you serve people, you fix broken things, you provide maintenance. Now think of other people and industries that do the same thing. Brown’s favorite comparison: a hospital and Home Depot.

Brown says the farther away from your industry the better. Then, ask this question: what would they do? How would they market themselves? How do they serve people? He says the concept works for every organization and helps identifies ways to stay fresh.

Threats

6. These aren’t traditional business threats; think of them as things that prevent people from being successful in strategy.

“A big threat is having too many ideas, too many possibilities and not being able to make decisions,” Brown says. That’s why he suggests a team take all those ideas and measure them by their potential impact, and how simple or difficult they would be to implement. Ideas that land in the corner of high impact and simple to implement are the no-brainers that should be executed immediately. Those that are high impact but more difficult to implement fall next in line as good projects for the coming months and year ahead. The items with less impact are lower priorities, or should be skipped altogether.

Brown says the exercise “is a great way to narrow things down.”

7. Another threat is having ideas, and having meetings about ideas, but never implementing them. Brown says leaders should pick one idea and create a mini plan to execute it. Write out the first five steps to get it done and keep it to a single sheet of paper. When team members can see and comprehend the whole plan from a simple, single sheet of paper, things can happen quickly.

A bonus session

8. A final 30-minute strategy session can focus fully on where your business is now in the pandemic, and how to look ahead. Brown offers four more questions, and says a group could be split into smaller teams and each one takes a question, answers it and then passes it on to the next group so each team has a few minutes with each question.

  • What are/were the smartest steps to address the biggest changes during the pandemic?
  • What worrisome developments from the pandemic are hampering performance?
  • On what occasions are we not currently delighting customers and prospects?
  • What takeaways from 2020 should dramatically shape our activities for the near future?

It adds up to eight different strategy sessions. Brown says they can be done in person or virtually. Thirty minutes is enough time to think through the questions, gain perspectives and “advance your strategy and ultimately turn them into mini plans.”

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