What’s next? The importance of strategic planning during volatile times

What’s next? The importance of strategic planning during volatile times

An illustrated groundhog holding a donut decorated with raspberry frosting and colored sprinklesWe are rapidly approaching the home stretch of 2020, with the fourth quarter looming just on the horizon. As the firm’s Chief Strategy Officer, this is normally a very busy and exciting time for me. It’s the time for us to kick off our annual strategic planning process, where we chart the course for the next few years and get excited about the hopes, dreams, plans, and goals for what is yet to come. I don’t know about you, but some days I find myself struggling to get excited about what lies ahead when this year feels like we’re living in the movie Groundhog Day: getting up and starting each day afresh and expecting that by the end of the day something will have changed to make the world a different and better place.

Now summer is over, and we’re adjusting to yet another new normal with kids going back to school online. Last week held the first day of school for our family, and by Friday morning I was shuffling around the kitchen struggling to get the kids into their routine. As I settled myself down at my desk for another long day, from out of the dark recessed of my brain came the words “It’s time to make the donuts.” My kids, being only 7 and 10 years old, looked at me like I was crazy and said, “Mom, you do not make donuts.” But that’s exactly what 2020 feels like sometimes!

(For those of you around and watching TV in the 1980s, you will no doubt remember the series of funny Dunkin Donuts commercials where a man trudges to work every day and works tirelessly to make donuts. If you’re too young to know what I’m talking about, go look at these fabulous old commercials—I bet you’ll be able to relate!)

Fast forward to later that night when I got on the stationary bike and went to look for the donut commercials on YouTube. You know, something mindless to entertain me while I’m stuck inside due to all the rain and COVID! I came across one that really resonated with me—you can check it out here. Two things really hit home with me about this commercial. First, he smacks his co-worker to get him to snap out of it, and second, at Dunkin Donuts they were focused on “making donuts differently.”

Here we are 30 years later, and I still remember this series of commercials and what Dunkin Donuts was trying to do to differentiate itself. Now, I’m certainly not encouraging any of you to smack your co-workers, but what I am saying is “hey, it’s time to snap out of it.” Yes, 2020 has stunk, and it’s been so very hard on many levels. But 2021 is on the horizon, and we need to be thinking differently about what that’s going to look like. Because it’s certainly going to continue to hold a lot of change for all of us.

Despite the chaos of 2020, many of you reading this newsletter in the development or AEC arena have not been as affected as much as many others across our nation have been. A lot of us have still been able to continue working, and business has been strong despite some operational modifications for compliance with COVID-19 rules. For most of our residential customers, the housing market is still booming: housing starts are at record levels, there is still a shortage of housing in many of the geographic markets we serve, and those markets are some of the fastest growing in our state and in the nation.

But like all good things, this period of boom will come to an end, or at least slow down. Have you thought about what’s next when this slowdown starts happening? This is where we all need a wake-up call now. I know everyone is heads down and busy, but it’s time for that slap in the face to start thinking about strategic planning and laying the groundwork for pivoting when the slowdown occurs.

Start with your financial targets for 2021. What will those look like in the face of COVID? The economy is not bouncing back as fast as many first thought it would, and the virus is still taking its toll on people and businesses. Despite the demand for jobs increasing in North Carolina, unemployment levels remain high for a variety of reasons. Interest rates are lower than they have been in many years, and consumer confidence is waning. Competition is increasing, and the number of new companies being formed is higher than it has been in decades. Time to consider what will 2021 hold in store for you and your business?

Once you decide what your financial targets will be for 2021, start taking a hard look at how you will get there. Who are your target markets next year? With change on the horizon, what will you do to innovate and differentiate your products, services, processes, and prices to help weather the storm? What does your business development strategy and plan look like? And what is your plan for marketing these exciting changes to your current and prospective customers?

If you feel like you’re trudging through work every day just to make the daily donuts and don’t have time to look ahead to strategic planning, reach out to us. Sometimes having a little outside perspective and inspiration is all that’s needed to get the ideas churning. As always, we’re standing by ready to help.

I leave you with this: what flavor of donuts will your customers be demanding in 2021 and beyond?