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Building a ‘smart growth strategy’ for 2021

As this wild year comes to a close, you may find it fruitful to take inventory of what transpired. What challenges did you face? What did you accomplish? What strengths emerged? What became apparent to you?

Under chronic stress we might rely on autopilot to get through the day. That might serve us temporarily, but ultimately it is healthier to be connected to a sense of purpose and a pathway to our own efficacy. In the business realm, that can involve creating a strategic road map.

Here is the outline of a “Smart Growth Strategy” I’m recommending for an established professional services firm.

Our client is well-positioned to grow but needs a clear road map to get there. Our work is to set the philosophy, direction and parameters for the firm’s expansion. My purpose with this column is to demystify and simplify the process, making it accessible to leaders ready to be more deliberate in navigating what is next.

Consider the following three-phase process to begin operating strategically.

Phase 1: Discovery

This phase is about getting an accurate assessment of where you are and the environment in which you operate. This exercise can be valuable in getting grounded in your resources, capacity, and the lay of the land. The discovery process usually includes such steps as conducting interviews and surveys of staff and clients, reviewing financial and operational data trends, and examining your organization’s cultural health.

Instrumental at this phase is the time-tested SWOT analysis.

The strengths and weaknesses are internal to your organization and are likely sources of pride, profitability and reputational equity. The weaknesses are your struggles and frustrations; they are likely tolerated but hamper your organization’s performance.

Opportunities and threats are external to your organization and include such influencers as a global pandemic, economic stability, innovation, technologies, regulations and legislation, market trends, etc.

This environmental scan helps leaders see the realities and possibilities that inform phase two of the process: designing your strategic road map.

Phase 2: Design

Armed with a clear understanding of your organization’s current state, you can embark on where and how you want to grow. That might be one year, three years or five-plus years in the future. A natural course in designing your plan is choosing to strategically leverage your strengths and opportunities, while mitigating your weaknesses and threats. Also fundamental to the design phase is aligning with your organization’s vision, mission and values. You can paint a more vivid and inspirational picture with an expanded vision or manifesto statement.

Perhaps the most challenging next step is to get clear on your tangible, measurable goals and key performance indicators, or KPIs.

How will you define success and how will you know if you have achieved it? What are the metrics and milestones? Well-designed goals are aspirational while still being achievable. The clearer the goals and KPIs are, the better the understanding will be about what it will take to succeed.

It is at this stage in the process where many leaders get stuck. Getting specific on results can bring some consternation. The resistance is usually around the difficulty in making a definitive directional choice and an unspoken discomfort with accountability. Fear of being able to meet the goals with current resources, uncertainty about how to achieve the goals, and the difficulty of prioritizing time, money and energy pose threats to the process. For many leaders, committing to a strategic road map is a switch from firefighting to long-term, big-picture thinking. We must learn to say no to what is not in the plan.

Phase 3: Implement

What good is a great strategic plan if it sits on the proverbial shelf? An actionable work plan makes the vision an attainable reality by mapping out the tactical steps, with clearly defined accountabilities and timelines.

That, of course, is only part of the implementation. Equally important is integrating the new work plan into existing operations. Create ways in which you report and measure progress against the plan to build a higher-performing organization, one that adequately challenges and rewards employees for their strategic contributions. If you do not already have transparent reporting mechanisms in place, this will be a significant cultural shift.

It is not uncommon to come up against obstacles in one’s attempt to roll out a strategic plan. People and organizations have patterns of thinking and behaving that may provoke resistance to any changes. A strategic plan without a strong culture to execute it will die on the vine. A healthy culture without direction will struggle to get traction and eventually deteriorate. Cultural shifts take time and consistent practice for a more on-purpose, results-oriented culture to evolve.

Start where you are and grow in a way that is genuine. Whatever your experience has been in 2020, you’ve no doubt felt the intensity of the chaotic circumstances, directly or indirectly. By taking time to reflect you can assess where you have been, where you are now, what you have learned, and what matters most to you in moving forward.

By following a process to develop a solid, smart growth strategy, you can bring intentionality to your work and your organization’s trajectory. Clear direction can help your team feel more focused and empowered, thereby harnessing your resources to produce the desired results. You can course-correct as needed, but I encourage you not to be too quick to abort the plan. A well-designed plan will take concentrated effort – a true, company-wide commitment.

Here’s to your intentional, sustainable growth!

Karen Natzel is a business therapist based in Oregon who helps leaders create healthy, vibrant and high-performing organizations.