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Shifting from timelines to trigger events for planning during COVID-19

May 20, 2020

Co-authored by OnStrategy’s Jeff Brunings and Erica Olsen

The strategic plans and best practices you established before the COVID-19 pandemic are not wasted effort. But, there’s a catch: you have to think about them differently.

Leaders have to change how they approach timing. Conversations around calendar dates and quarterly deliverables are unproductive right now. There’s too much unknown (e.g.; when will states fully reopen? When will there be a vaccine?). And frankly, most of it’s out of our control.

To stabilize and recover, leaders need to align their strategy to the current reality and the realities that are likely to follow. Here’s how:

Start by splitting your strategic plan into distinct phases. For example:

  • Phase I might initiate once shelter-in-place restrictions are lifted in your region or surrounding states.
  • Phase II could initiate when raw materials, production capacity or staffing reach a certain threshold.
  • Phase III could be triggered by three months of consistent revenue growth.

Clearly define the priorities for each phase and the actions that are required to advance to the next – but don’t put them on the calendar. Remove expectations around dates and replace them with evidence-based triggers.

Triggers are key actions that need to occur to move the business into the next phase. They could be a combination of external factors and operational thresholds.

Evidence-based triggers are most powerful when they’re objective and measurable, so there’s no debate about whether it’s time to move on. Hold firm to your criteria, and don’t progress until all of the perquisites have been met.

What if?

In the current environment, leaders may need to develop scenario-based phases instead of a single, master roadmap. Pre-determine your response to different market conditions, performance standards or other variables.

Define the focus of each phase to bring clarity and alignment on what’s important; then everyone knows what to work on and how to prepare for the next stage.

What about the budget?

Financial leaders may be uncomfortable without calendar dates, especially if budgets are established by calendar year. You can ease this tension by estimating ranges or months for each phase – as long as you retain the flexibility to revisit and adapt the plans if the right triggers haven’t been launched.

Revisit the plan every few weeks and adjust the calendar dates for your financial folks, if needed. The focus should be on getting it done right, not “right now.”

Inspiring confidence

The move to trigger-based planning is a mindset shift, and leaders can’t make it alone. To gain the support and confidence of their teams, leaders need to provide transparency and visibility into the new process.

Trigger-based planning can keep the company marching forward, even without deadlines. Phases are cumulative, so the entire company is working toward a larger end-goal, not one-off projects on the calendar. It’s a powerful way to create accountability across the organization.

Planning for the future

It’d be great if we could set a date for all the pandemic effects to disappear – but nobody has that kind of power. Instead, leaders need to shift their mindset and pursue phase- and trigger-based strategic roadmaps instead of timeline-driven goals. 

The fundamentals of your strategic plan are still valid, even if they don’t have calendar dates attached to them. Leaders just have to think differently about how to execute their strategies.  

Learn more

Watch our free webcast on 4 shifts you should be making to jump start your recovery to learn more about evidence-based triggers. Speakers include Wipli’s Marcie Bomberg and Jeffrey Wulf and OnStrategy’s Jeff Brunings and Erica Olsen.

We’re here to help you navigate the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on your people, finances and business. We have developed a library of resources in our COVID-19 resource center to help you stabilize today and prepare for tomorrow. We also have solutions that can help you manage your people, strategy, operations, business finances and technology. We’re here to help. Contact us today.

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Marcie Bomberg-Montoya, OCI, OEI
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Jeffrey H. Wulf
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