Effective long term strategic planning and – more importantly – intelligent strategic thinking are critical elements to an organization’s overall longevity and productivity. There are two issues with that statement today.
Firstly, if you are a public company, it is often the case that the quarterly performance takes precedence over any long term thinking or investments, especially in a down market or a time of upheaval. This is always the dilemma for CEO’s and their boards as to how to balance the responsibilities, expectations and obligations of a diverse shareholder base with different agendas.
The second issue with placing an emphasis on strategic planning and strategic thinking in today’s hyper-kinetic and technologically frantic world is that events and issues and indeed, consumers, are moving so incredibly fast, that any “long term plan” may not be worth the laptop it’s typed into within a few months of being crafted. In this case, I would tend to lean towards a strategic process, where there is a line drawn in the sand as to what the ultimate objective of the organization is and the steps it will take to get there and then have a process to constantly revisit, revise and adjust as often as needed.
However, that is not the point of this posting. What hit me about the fact that GNC decided to close all 4,500 stores on December 28th for one full day to reset all their pricing and promotions (and probably re-train their staff at the same time) is that they did what all of us wish we could do – they made their world stop for at least one day. Their world stopped spinning on its axis – there were no sales reports to monitor; no merchandise reports to analyze; no KPI calculations to report – they took what amounted to a time out to reset their organization, its priorities and its strategy. I believe more companies need to do the same thing.
Starbucks did something very similar a few years ago when, on February 26th, 2008, they closed over 7,100 stores for 3.5 hours when they sensed that the stores’ 135,000 baristas needed re-training and that the values and basic objectives of the company needed to be re-communicated to everyone. This has led to an unprecedented level of growth and success for the company since that event, as they re-committed to superior, unprecedented customer experience as an overarching principle and strategy.
It is common knowledge that to be an effective executive one needs to create white space during a day and week in order to think things through and reflect on the events and meetings that have occurred. Just like one’s palate needing to be cleansed, an organization’s ability to cleanse its palate will determine whether it can reset, re-adjust, re-energize and re-direct its energies into the more relevant tactics and activities that drive success.
Even in this ‘extreme future’ that is our daily reality (and will be for some time to come, if not forever), it is more critical now to take time out. Human nature is preconditioned to action. We are all action junkies as we feel better about ourselves if we accomplish something, no matter how small, in every waking moment. Organizations can only sustain this type of activity for so long. Without slowing down; without a pause; without a time out, organizations will not be able to sustain their growth or their ambitious objectives without some strategic process.
I am not advocating that closing the doors for a day is the magic bullet. But in the interests of grappling with the extreme future and the pace of change today in retail or any industry, I urge all leadership teams to take a breath and slow things down just a fraction. Hold meaningful dialogue and analysis on where is the best direction to head, settle on a process to check-in on and possibly re-visit that decision. Then you will see how much faster you will be able to move towards and accomplish your objectives in 2017 and beyond.