Strategy

Short-term, Intermediate and Long-term Success

In business and politics, the first 90-100 days is often considered a “honeymoon period” during which the new employee, including a CEO or President, is given a grace period. During the initial stages of the pandemic, almost everybody reported incredible performance by people and companies.

  •  Most employees adapted to working from home quickly; for the majority of people, productivity actually improved compared to normal
  •  Management consultants, like McKinsey, and business and popular media, reported that companies made transition to the lockdown in record time.  Three examples:
    • A hospital went from 200 telemedicine visits in 2019, to 5000 a week, a goal it had estimated would take years.
    • A company running movie theaters when forced to close down decided to retrain 1000 users and ticket sellers to work for an online grocery, and accomplished the goal in only two days.
    • Best Buy, which spent months testing curbside delivery at a handful of stores, rolled it out in every store in two days.

There are many reasons for the short-term success. CEOs with whom we work asked if this was sustainable, and we brought to their attention that it might not for lots of reasons, including one underlying the “Hawthorne Effect”. Years ago, in a study on ways to increase productivity, everything that the researchers did to improve working conditions in a factory had a positive effect on worker productivity. Wondering how it could be so good, they then started removing them; productivity continued to increase, until the removal of extra and then normal lighting made the room so dark it all came to a screeching halt. Conclusion: people who know they are being watched and want to please the observers, will do what they can to impress them. 

In the short term, we’ve watched this happen. Juggling work and family conditions (e.g., support, schooling, etc.) is stressful, but short-term we mobilized to do it. Working conditions at home weren’t ideal (e.g., our “desk” was a table sticking out of a closet), but we adapted to the conditions. However as we start planning for the next set of months, it’ll be a different reality: we are no longer in the “fight-back” mode but in the “creating a new life mode”. We need more comfort, more support from other people, to make it through the next stage. Expect lots of changes in how we manage space, time, multiple business, family and personal goals during the intermediate stage.

Leaders with whom I work are focusing now on the long-term. We’re not going back to the pre-pandemic office situation. Company leaders are trying to figure out how to allow people to adapt to the new distributed workforce model. Spatially, it means working from home, office and pods on whatever basis makes sense for the person, customer, technology, etc. Studies show that the overwhelming majority of people do not want to work in an office full-time in the future, nor do they want to commute and travel for business when alternatives exist. The nature of business, family, personal expectations for life fulfilment are all playing a role in determining the after-the-pandemic world.

More important, we need to focus on long-term job satisfaction, professional growth, creativity and innovation. We need to adapt new models for increased collaboration between members of teams and teams-of-teams in a world of greater self-management and ongoing change. Steve Jobs’ last major accomplishment was leaving Apple with a new California campus designed to spur spontaneous encounters, and encourage collaboration, creativity and innovation. Shaped like a donut, people could bump-into-one-another on the way to common areas, and begin conversations that could generate new ideas, products and services.   Today’s work-from-home, ”Zoom to communicate” world, lacks that opportunity for spontaneous exchange and ideation – keys to innovation.  Long-term success depends on our ability to build structures that will address this issue.

What do you think we can do to ensure long-term success? Share your ideas!

ADAP Is Even More Important Now

Over a decade ago, a client asked for a simple “lens” through which to filter all material in a presentation. After considerable thought and experimentation, we developed ADAP – Audience-Driven, Authentic Presentations.   

Over the last weeks, we’ve been overwhelmed by the number of “students” – clients and colleagues – who’ve noticed how people giving advice on marketing and selling to people during this pandemic are realizing the importance of our formula.

The first part (AD) means that as a presenter you need to understand how the audience is going to respond to different types of information and styles of presenting it. What are the sensitivities that will alienate them? What are the hooks that will grab their attention?

For instance, in a recent Investor’s Business Daily article entitled Adjust Marketing Message in a Pandemic, a financial planner commented, “Our intent in marketing now is to figure out what we can do to help. It’s not to take advantage of the pandemic to sell. It’s trying to help people with specific timely issues such as how this will affect their kids going back to school in the fall and other questions that arise if this thing continues.”

The more you know about the parties you are addressing, the better you will do. Recently, a company that sells women’s fancy dresses for formal occasions, was up for sale. The Seller was unable to get its price because buyers were afraid of what’s happening in retail – significantly declining sales while Ecommerce grows. Reviewing the failure, we noticed what was missing in their AD analysis: the buyers were all men who knew that men wear tuxedos to many of these events and wear the same one over and over again for several years, as long as it fit. So, for them, this was a typical retail issue: buying a new product can be postponed. But women can’t wear the same dress “twice”!  So this is not typical retail.  With that, we changed the introduction to the presentation, asking new buyers how often they wore the same tuxedo and how often their significant others wore the same dress. When they laughed at the difference, we knew they now understood that this was not a typical retail situation. With that, the company sold for the price the seller wanted.

Another reason for the success was the second part of the formula:  AP –authentic presentations. In this round of the presentations, the CEO – a woman – introduced her company and asked the question.  A lot more authentic than had it been simply a fact in a 40+ page presentation!

So, after you’ve figured out what issues will drive the audience to make favorable decisions, figure out how to make the presentation truly authentic – what vulnerabilities, experiences will cement the connection. This is especially true now as people juggle health, safety, financial, systemic racial sensitivities, etc. in addition to the specific concerns for your product or service.

What’s the Best Recovery Scenario?

it’s time to brush-up on your scenario planning skills. What’s the best strategy for your company to revitalize business and take advantage of the many post-pandemic changes we will experience?  

If you’re like me and the dozens of CEOs with whom I work, these are high-pressure, fast-paced times. When the pandemic hit, we had to leave our offices and mobilize our teams to work from home – assuming we still has a business with customers to serve. (My CEOs sit along the entire spectrum, from losing all business to growing faster than ever imagined.)We needed to take care of family, employees, customers, partners and investors. We had to quickly file for PPP and other local and national aid programs if appropriate.

Now, we need to plan for the road back and, more important, how to make changes in our business to thrive in the new normal – before our competitors do! Some things we know: we’ll be walking into buildings with enhanced lobby-based ID checking stations to check for covid-hazard to others. (Expect temperature readers and bioscanners.)  If you’re not in businesses that require your presence (e.g., manufacturing and restaurants) you will be balancing increased demand for work-at-home arrangements. Expect supply chains to change with more domestic content.  Which customers will still be alive; when can they pay? Which ones are shifting their business model which will change your relationship?  Lots more.


The big challenge is to look into a crystal ball and decide what opportunities exist for growth, what risks and benefits are associated with each, and what is your ability to actually execute on a strategy going forward?

This is what scenario planning allows you to do.  Michael Godet explains in Creating Futures, the steps are to:

  1. Formulate the problem – e.g., to narrow or broaden your customer /market/industry focus
  2. Identify key internal and external variables based on experience
  3. Diagnose your firm: what are your areas of competence and impact on strategy choices
  4. Determine your competitive advantages in relation to the market:  competitors and customers
  5. Identify impact of external scenarios – megatrends, new trends, threats and opportunities and risks.
  6. Develop strategic options and possible actions
  7. Thoroughly evaluate the options with additional objectivity
  8. Finalize plan and implement.

Because this is so important, I’ve re-invited our resident Vistage Expert, Gideon Malherbe, to spend time with one of my CEO Boards to apply scenario planning tools to members’ situations. If you’re a local CEO and have an interest in attending his presentation on May 28, contact me at: jerry.cahn@Vistage.com.

Ready to Lead the Recovery Plan?

As noted in the prior blog, it will take a lot of planning to execute a cost-effective, strategically focused recovery plan. The effort starts at the top, with smart leadership. Paul Laudicina identified 10 key activities in which leaders must engage in order to succeed. They are:

  1.  Assess. A fact-based, multi-variable, multi-stakeholder assessment of the situation is needed, regardless of what sacred cows are vulnerable. Make sure to get your team’s buy-in.
  2. Imagine. Use scenario planning tools to assess what’s likely and what wild-cards might bring with them.
  3. Prepare. What has to be done to move away from what you did and what needs to be done to get you to the next normal?
  4. Assign. Delegate responsibilities to team members for greater bandwidth, diversity of thought and fresh perspectives.
  5. Communicate. Regularly, you need to engage all stakeholders – employees, customers, shareholders, suppliers, community leaders, etc. Change is hard, and each communication helps reinforce the messages true intent and direction.
  6. Act. Take responsibility for execution and engage everyone to create ownership by the team.
  7. Measure. We get what we measure. So choose the right decision criteria to measure process and outcomes. Do so frequently.
  8. Adjust When necessary do so, explain why and monitor it’s success closely.
  9. Empathize. Remember, serving your people overrides the rigidity of a strategy. Understand and address people’s pain in this situation and be sensitive to their needs.
  10. Engage. Stay visible to all stakeholders. You are the role model: you symbolize the change that you’re implementing. 

Share your leadership challenges as you execute.  And ask our community for help!

What’s Your Recovery Plan Strategy?

Most of the time when clients ask for help to build a strategic plan with a strategy, the goal is to launch and execute a plan for new products, services, offices, etc. that are expected to last a long time.  Today, the most important strategy is ”the bridge to the next normal”. How to navigate the Covid-19 recovery period. It’s challenging for two reasons: 

  • What’s the starting point? Is it the world pre- lockdown or post-lockdown / beginning of the gradual recovery? (For instance, if you used PP money to keep workers employed for at least eight weeks, but know that the old business isn’t viable for the foreseeable future, what do you do with them? )
  • What’s the end point look like? Everything is changing, so how much hedging is appropriate, how often are reviews needed to identify continuing changes, etc.? 

As I work with my Vistage colleagues and CEO Board members on this process, I came across an excellent article to help you formulate your thoughts.  Five Steps to Consider As You Create Your Covid-19  Recovery Plan by Trever  Cartwright was published in Forbes.  Here are the five steps:

  1. Surround yourself by smart-people – you will need their help.  (If you’re a Vistage Worldwide member, you already have 23,000 CEOs most of whom lead companies of $5-500M. They are smart, have great integrity, are hungry for more success and open to learning: the perfect profile for a support group.)
  2. Get clear on what “recovery” means for your business. The pre-pandemic world might not be viable now and/or in the future
  3. Evaluate your current strategic plan and be willing to walk away from it.  Focus on two questions: what must we stop doing and what must we start doing?
  4. Despite the uncertainty, create your recovery plan now. This requires that you (1) identify the most important, non-negotiable decision criteria, (2) Use scenario planning tools to explore alternative future risks and assess rewards relative to your strengths/weakness and likelihood of events/circumstances.
  5. Align your organization to the plan.  As the strategy changes, so too may the need for different workers, culture, organization, etc.

As I noted the road to recovery is a work in progress. Each plan will be iterative. And if you do the proper planning, evaluation, re-planning and re-evaluation, you may discover that your revitalized company is even more efficient, effective, profitable and purpose-achieving than the old one.

Share your experiences building the strategy. And ask our community for help!

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