If you switch tactics, you’re flexible. If you flip your strategy too often, you’re lost.
It’s why strategy meetings tend to happen annually, informed by three- to five-year plans. In contrast, we spend daily and weekly meetings testing and adapting our tactics.
But then sometimes your world changes dramatically — and quickly.
Perhaps a major client leaves, or a core assumption is proved wrong or a global pandemic stops the world’s economy like never before in modern history. Then as a leader, you have to reassess your strategy. Does it get thrown out? Adapted? Merged? Transformed? Tweaked?
It’s a skillset that shouldn’t be used often, but fate may force leaders to use it: How do you change your company’s strategy quickly?
To get advice for the fourth episode of Technical.ly’s TWIJ Show, I turned to two experienced professionals who have done just that in a range of different roles.
The CEO and founder of Sorcero, a 21-person enterprise intelligence language platform company based in the Adams Morgan neighborhood of Washington D.C., is Dipanwita Das. Last month she closed a $3 million bridge round and has been thrust into Series A financing amid pandemic disruptions. Previously she started and ran a digital transformation consulting firm, 42 Strategies, and she worked through the Great Recession.
I also invited Shana Glenzer, now the VP of marketing and communications at Diligent, a 1,000-person company with $300 million in annual recurring revenue that since 2001 has been behind the SaaS platform for corporate and board governance. Headquartered in New York, they also have offices in D.C. near Farragut Square. Glenzer was an early super connector in the post-dot-com-bubble D.C. tech community, bouncing between leadership roles at several prominent D.C. tech firms, including Crowdskout, MakeOffices, Aquicore, Social Radar and Blackboard.
Both are thoughtful and have been in plenty of rooms when company strategies had to change, quickly. Here’s what they told me about doing it well.
Return to your ‘why’
When you recognize something big is happening to your company, start by reminding yourself with your most core goals. At its most core, what is your company trying to do? That is what you won’t compromise on.
“Always go back to the why,” Das said. That can be tricky across different teams, who have different priorities —product, sales, marketing. She advises: “Find the common language.”
You also might assess your strengths. Sorcero has long-term contracts so in recent weeks, its client-success approach has been fine-tuned on the people — heir buyers, champions and users. It’s taking extra care to ask how everyone is handling the situation.
How do you get to those decisions? It’s going to take a lot of conversations — which means a lot of meetings. Glenzer reminds how easy in times of disruption it is for your meetings to fall into bad habits. Start each meeting with asking, “What are we here to do, and what are the next steps?” said Glenzer.
Look at your priorities with fresh eyes
Don’t assume what was your top priority was before the big change is still the case.
Sorcero uses scenario planning, building and rebuilding best, middle and worse case scenarios. Das uses a quadrant system, something like what is depicted above, with one axis being of urgency and another of importance. During times of dramatic change, each day she assesses her priorities and focuses on the urgent and important, that upper-right quadrant.
It’s also helpful to set shorter sprints with deadlines to work toward. For example, Das set a 90-day period to reset priorities. In the immediate term during dramatic change, you might establish a daily or weekly meeting to develop an action plan by a certain deadline, say a week or a month out.
Look at what priorities you already had sitting on the back burner, said Glenzer. The Diligent communications team had wanted to rollout a plan to get CEO Brian Stafford’s “voice out there.” Suddenly that felt well timed, so the “we’ll get there” plan become a priority. It’s a reminder to have a list of different company tactics or goals that might suddenly rise in prominence, depending on the circumstances of a major change.
Increase the communication
One foundation of managing any sudden shock is that leaders have to communicate more than ever.
Weekly one-on-ones become daily; monthly all-team communication might go weekly. Glenzer mentioned how in the immediate wake of a big change (pandemic level, for sure, but other big changes, too) managers should be setting priorities daily, when appropriate. Something that might seem like micro-managing can be essential if company goals are shifting. When strategy is being updated, your team needs to understand.
Glenzer said these can be quick check-ins, by phone, chat or video conference, depending on you and your teammate, but the focus is the same: “Here’s what needs to get done today,” she said. As a new normal is established, you might slowly transition back to what feels to work best.
Part of that communication should be encouraging your team to breathe. Both Glenzer and Das noted that right now, leaders have a responsibility to encourage their teammates to take care of themselves. That include light human interaction — Sorcero has launched a “baking” channel on their company Slack install, and Diligent now has “quarantine cuisine.”
“Make sure you’re taking care of yourself and your team for the long term,” said Glenzer. Encourage PTO, breaks or holidays, depending on the length of the cycle forcing a strategy change. Responding to an adrenaline-packed crisis requires “forced time away” from work.
Remember your mission, as a company and a person
Whether you work for a 1,000 person company, are the founder of a small company or are self-employed, you have to return to your mission. Changing strategy in a rush can lead to mistakes. What is your company trying to do? What do you want to do?
These checks can help guide you when so much is changing. It’s OK to be honest as a leader when you’re uncertain. During great change, it’s likely no one expects you to have all the answers.
“Show your vulnerability,” said Das. Remember that all professionals aim “to keep building and moving to mastery.”