There’s a well-worn saying in business that the only certainty is change, and this year has proven that to be true by exponential levels. Entire industries found themselves faced with the need to plan and transform their businesses in the face of tremendous unknowns. Now, as we enter September of 2020, with the initial abrupt disruptions behind us, what does it mean to look ahead, and begin planning for the future?
Business transformation matters now more than ever and agility and forward-thinking scenario planning have never been more important.
Building a Roadmap for the Future in Times of Uncertainty
Taking steps to significantly shift—or transform—a company’s business can be either proactive or reactive. Ideally, it’s the former, but external events, whether created by competitors, shifts in customer needs, governmental regulations, or global events can cause the latter to be true. At a high level, the process for either is the same. Here’s the overview:
- Begin with fact-based strategic planning, competitive research, and situational analysis to create the essential foundation of data about the status quo.
- Next, based on this foundation of data, leaders need to identify and analyze potential future states for the business.
- Based on this analysis, leadership aligns with the agreed future state and begins the work of determining the specific changes and sequencing that will be required.
- Evaluate the brand and business—are they aligned with each other, or do they need to be recalibrated to make sure that the brand is supporting the new business direction?
- Finally, it’s essential to keep employees informed as the process unfolds, not only so they are kept in the loop, but also as a source of feedback and information.
Let’s go into more detail on each step:
Set the Foundation
Successful transformations—or sometimes, evolutions—need to start with a clear-eyed understanding of both the current state of the business, as well as upcoming external forces that will have an impact. It’s good to approach this phase of the process with a structured set of internal and external research aimed at uncovering the business’s strengths and weaknesses, competitive threats, and unmet customer needs. In addition, it’s important to have a good understanding of known external impacts that can be anticipated—things such as regulatory changes and general business trends and market predictions.
Identify Your North Star
Armed with this foundational set of information, it’s now time for a business’s leadership team to identify potential paths forward. Oftentimes, these will exist along a continuum, starting with slight shifts to the existing business, then growing in ambition to encompass more ambitious pivots and expansions. Each potential direction is then analyzed to understand its implications: How will it impact revenue? Do we have the right talent to execute the direction? How will it change our customer base and competitive set? How does it impact our product roadmap? How will analysts and investors react? After assessing the options, the leadership team needs to discuss, align, and set a direction.
Create An Execution Plan
The next step is the planning phase: What changes need to be made in order to begin making the desired shifts? In what sequence do they need to occur? What are the potential ripple effects of those changes? It’s important to do this work in a cross-functional manner, giving all parts of the organization insights into the changes occurring. This helps to eliminate overlapping efforts and activities that could compete with or contradict each other, in addition to providing an integrated roadmap that ensures everyone knows how the change efforts fit together and combine to achieve the end result.
Align Your Brand
When making a shift, it’s essential to make sure that your brand is supporting and reinforcing your new business strategy. This starts with making sure that your brand positioning supports your chosen direction followed by your messaging and external expression of your brand: digital touchpoints (web, social, etc.), sales support materials, PR, AR, IR, and all external-facing communications. Don’t neglect the visual expression of your brand. Many companies, especially former startups entering their next phase of maturity, find that they have outgrown their previous look and feel and need to evolve into a more ‘mature’ level of design sensibility.
Bring People Along on the Journey
The most successful transformations are inclusive, and while it is important that leaders lead the process, it is equally important to involve perspectives and participation from across the organization. This includes involving different divisions, geographies, functions, and levels within the company as part of the planning process in order to get their input as plans are developed. This not only ensures that critical details aren’t overlooked but also builds engagement and buy-in to the process.
A Shared Understanding Speeds Execution
Ultimately, change is about disciplined execution and dedication to doing the work required to make change stick across multiple parts of the organization and ensuring that the people of the organization understand what the change is, how the business is going to adapt, and why it matters because organizations with a shared understanding about the reasons behind change are more likely to move forward with certainty, even in uncertain times.
Emotive Brand is a brand strategy and design agency in Oakland, California.