Way back in 1492, Christopher Columbus left Spain, embarking on a path to Asia that few, if any, had traveled before. But barely a month into his voyage, Columbus and his crew had to make an extended stop in the Canary Islands for more than five weeks to repair, refit and restock his ships.
Columbus was not to be deterred. He was a man on a mission. A mission that failed.
Or at least it would seem at first blush. Though he never reached Asia, he did land upon a rather significant destination. While his destination was clear and he had done everything he could to prepare for the work required to reach his objective and goal, he did not end up where he thought he would.
Business leaders often begin a new year like Columbus – with a renewed focus on business objectives, clarity on annual goals and financial targets and an understanding of the resources necessary to reach them. A map – a strategic plan – is developed to help the team navigate towards the goals and serve as a keystone and reminder of the original objective.
But so often, navigating the course laid out by the strategic plan is unintentionally de-prioritized by the more urgent activities of running the business. Or perhaps the course is being followed – but not tracked, and progress is unknown. The first quarter of the year has come and gone, and a business leader finds his or herself feeling the pressure to steer the ship back on course and deliver on the goals set for the year.
Regardless of the cause for finishing the first part of the year behind expectations, we present suggestions to get your organization back on course.
1. Uncover the root of the issue.
Many times, people make assumptions about the key drivers or provide an easy answer without understanding the real cause. Leaders should clearly understand where the shortfalls are coming from using root cause analysis – a term describing a wide range of approaches that add methodology and technique to problem solving.
ArchPoint Partner Amy Ritchie provides perspective from past experience: “In a former career, people kept saying that product and customer mix were the reasons our sales were down. However, we found out, using root cause analysis, we had actually been losing because of price. Our findings drove a series of actions to stop the bleeding and bolster our pricing.” Root cause analysis can also help understand a trend present in the business, if it will continue and for how long. The length of time identified in the analysis should determine priority for the next set of actions.
As a leadership team, revisit the assumptions you made in constructing the original plan. Are they all still valid? A lot can happen in a few months and if what was true at the end of last year no longer holds true, adjust as needed to deliver what the organization needs now.
2. Accelerate marketplace impact.
ArchPoint Managing Partner Bob Landis advises leaders to identify the priorities that are on track. “Engage the teams leading those priorities to discuss what they would need in order to exaggerate their success.” By amplifying the success of what is working, you may be able to compensate for what’s not working in the interim until you’re back on track.
Leaders can also work to mitigate performance gaps by identifying some quick wins in the marketplace. Consider what priorities in the pipeline could be pulled forward and accelerate the launch. Also think about the priorities that have a bigger impact from both a growth and productivity standpoint.
3. Validate with customer commentary.
“Think about the business from a customer’s perspective to see where there might be some customer experience gaps contributing to the issue. You might want to do some customer experience journey mapping to validate the “ideal” customer journey compared to the actual customer journey,” offers Skip Dampier, ArchPoint President, Marketing & Branding.
Talking to your key customers can be one of the most insightful – and speedy – ways to understand the cause of underperformance because the feedback is objective and external to any internal barriers you may be experiencing. Take action against the largest opportunities identified by this feedback to quickly make the biggest impact.
4. Refocus on resources.
Tightly manage costs and reduce discretionary spending in the meantime. Delay non-essential hires and reduce all other spending where you can to relieve some of the financial stress. Manage other metrics that will show you are back on the right path. Do not forget that change is difficult, even when ample time is allowed to manage through it. Metrics will provide a progress report, but one or more team members should be designated as champions of the shift in direction – communicating and working preemptively with other team members.
Keep the team focused on the prioritized actions needed to deliver the quarter. Celebrate wins and keep the team engaged to continue forward momentum. Getting back on course is tough work and you’ll need a motivated team to make it happen.
Lastly, take a cue from Columbus and be willing to look at the new organizational positioning not as a failure, but as a challenge to explore opportunities for growth.
The biggest struggle for most companies is strategy – and that struggle isn’t new. ArchPoint regularly helps clients reboot midyear to ensure strategic priorities are met using a world-class strategy model. Contact us to help get your organization get back on course.