Planning and Goal Setting for the ‘New Normal’

January 19, 2021

By Cynthia McGovern

So, are you sick of the phrase “The New Normal” yet? It’s become almost as much of a cliché as “In these challenging times ….” But like it or not, it’s the 600-pound gorilla in your office that just won’t go away. Everything has changed, plain and simple, and no amount of wishing and hoping will alter that reality.

It affects every aspect of our lives, and most certainly the way we do business. But like every other challenging situation, it can only be dealt with when we are not afraid to look at it head on and make what are often some enormous changes to our business models.

One thing the pandemic is NOT—it is NOT an excuse to throw your planning and goal-setting processes out the window or to delay it indefinitely, and deal with this new environment from a purely reactive stance, simply because “we don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Do we ever? I get it, the changes we’re undergoing as an industry right now have been perhaps more massive than any in our recent history, and we have been through some changes over the years. But that only intensifies the need to up our game when it comes to adapting, planning and executing.

With 2021 finally here—and be honest, there were times we thought it would NEVER get here—I challenge all of you to sit down, take a breath and invest some mental energy into reinventing your strategic planning process for the coming year.

It starts, as always, with your fundamental mission. Sure, the pandemic has certainly changed the way you’ve delivered your products and services, but has it truly disrupted our mission? Our clients have the same needs, and we respond to them with the same types of solutions.

For example, if you operate a chain of buffet-style restaurants, you are obviously going to have challenges in the mask-and-hand-washing era. But bottom line, you’re still selling food, and there’s still a need for it—you may just have to find another way to do it.

Start your planning process with a reassertion of your basic mission statement, and tweak if necessary. And take a look at your core values, too. Those tend be carved in stone, as they should—your mode of delivery shouldn’t change those.

What kinds of revenue goals can you set for the coming year? Take into account the changes you may need to make in regard to your markets, and your interactions with your customer base. How will that impact your profitability goals? And what do you need to do to adjust to this brave new world?

Maybe you need to beef up your technology with new staff or enhanced training. Take a quick inventory of the services you’ve traditionally provided. Have you been able to deliver them effectively in 2020? If not, what needs to change—within your control—to get things back on track?  (Here’s a spoiler alert: the goals you set in last year’s plan are most likely going to need to be revisited, and revised. In some cases, significantly.)

How does your budget look? You do have a budget, right? What kind of resources do you have to make the changes you need to implement? You may have to do some major reinvention here as well. But you may also have some unexpected windfalls.

I’m guessing your travel budget for 2020 finished the year largely unspent. And most likely this was a resource that helped to offset revenue fluctuations due to an uncertain market. Well maybe—and I’ll whisper this—you didn’t really need to do as much travel as you were doing to begin with.

We’ve learned to do a lot of things differently during the pandemic, and customer relations has been at the top of the list. Virtual communication and conferences have moved to center-stage, often becoming our ONLY tool to get our critical tasks accomplished. Reinvesting that travel budget into technology might be something to consider, even when things finally DO get back to normal.

Take time for a mini-SWOT, but 2020-style. Your strengths may have kept you afloat this year, or your weaknesses might have been more obviously exposed. In a world turned upside down, there are new opportunities for those willing to innovate. And threats? Yeah, we’ve had our share of threats this year, and there are probably more to come.

Suffice it to say, if you haven’t conducted a SWOT analysis, even a casual one, since last March, chances are good that the 2021 edition will look a little different. Always a critical component of any strategic planning process, it is absolutely essential now.

When you’re focusing in opportunities, start to rebuild your target list. Again, it may turn out to be quite different from the 2019 version. Be realistic, creative and aggressive. Master the communication technology you’ll need to develop relationships with your prospects. And remember that, yes, the world has gone through a lot, and many of your customers are hurting. But you can’t let this be an obstacle to your need to ask for the business.

Finally, when all of the pieces of your planning puzzle are on the table, it’s time to assemble them into action steps, with measurable outcomes. Assign the necessary budget and resources to each, prioritize them, and you’ll see a legitimate action plan begin to take shape.

And most importantly, build in your evaluation phase. Yes, one school of thought is that “if we stay in business, we’ve succeeded.” But I believe we can all do more than survive in 2021—we can thrive.

So, to recap, here’s your to-do list:

  1. Check your mission statement and core values
  2. Rework your revenue goals and projections to reflect the current environment
  3. Do the same with your annual budget—what do you need to respond to that “new normal?”
  4. Conduct a quick SWOT analysis, 2020-style.
  5. Rebuild your target list, if necessary
  6. Develop and prioritize your action steps
  7. Build in evaluation reviews along the way, and adjust as needed

As we climb back up that mountain, we need to keep looking up—never down. The game has changed, but for those that can change with it, success can still be had.

But it all starts with a plan.

Cynthia McGovern is chief executive officer of Orange Leaf Consulting, which helps title companies create sustainable growth and follows the motto “Grow Big or Go Home.” She can be reached at [email protected].

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or [email protected].