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3 Steps to Evaluate Emerging Issues (without disrupting your plan)

3 Steps to Evaluate Emerging Issues (without disrupting your plan)
"Ideas are like rabbits. You get a couple and pretty soon you have a dozen." -- John Steinbeck

I like rabbits, but I love ideas. Too many of either and you have a problem. 

Managers consistently struggle with how to encourage innovation without disrupting productivity and performance against current objectives.

In this post, I lay out how and when to engage new ideas to effectively balance the way in which your organization uses its strategic thinking muscles to make progress on goals and respond to change with minimal disruption.

Step 1: Determine if the issues identified are truly emerging or if they are problems to solve in the implementation of your plan.

Making this distinction is especially important for organizations in the first year of implementing a new strategic direction. As detailed operational plans are developed, it is quite common for issues to emerge. It is the leadership team’s role to translate the strategic thinking of the plan and engage the creativity of operational talent to work through implementation obstacles.

This first year can be the most dangerous for a new strategic direction as those not fully briefed on it push back and attempt to unwind the plan in favor of the status quo. Management must take care to listen, explain, and guide strategy implementation as teams work to resolve issues and build a brilliant operational plan.

For groups and leadership teams NOT engaged in operationalizing a new strategic direction, issues, ideas, opportunities, and potential threats are continually emerging and can be distracting when the pressure is on to meet your plan’s goals. Once again, it is important first to clarify if the issue identified is a plan obstacle that needs resolution and integration into your plan OR if it is an important insight, new idea, or critical factor that could modify your plans and priorities.

DIG DEEPER: Read An Obstacle to Resolve or a Bona Fide Emerging Issue?

STEP 2: For bona fide emerging issues, leadership teams should create a regular discipline of collecting and setting aside a specific time to review and evaluate their significance. Part of this review should include a scan of your team’s market intelligence, such as new trends, innovations, or shifts that could shake up the view of your market and the positioning you hold in it.

These could be insights from a recent market trip, trade show, or customer discussion.

How do you evaluate if an emerging issue warrants further exploration? There are three main strategic thinking questions to help determine if you should spend more time and money exploring any one topic.

  1. Does it change Planning Assumptions? To what degree should critical assumptions be modified? Does this discovery or observation put pressure on a foundational element of your plan? A planning assumption can be financial, such as a growth index, or it can be a condition, such as your regulatory environment.
  2. Is it a potential Market Innovation? To what degree is this new information on what you understand about the market, how it operates (its dynamics), and who is competing with you (directly or indirectly)?
  3. Would this cause us to Re-prioritize Current Goals? To what degree could this mean we should delay a goal or move a goal up on our strategic planning timetable?

If an issue ranks low, it most likely does not warrant research. It still may come up in the planning discussions, but you will now be prepared to discuss the evaluation of its impact on your plans and quickly refocus your time back to more important topics.

For the issues that ranked high (a potentially high degree of impact on your plans or goals), assign a person or team to explore the topic and prepare a briefing to kick off your next planning cycle with insights to refresh your strategic thinking.

STEP 3: Review performance against current goals to identify emerging issues in your operations. Explore where you are struggling and why. Did you miss something important when setting your goals? Have you the right core competencies to meet expectations? Are you under constant pressure from changing conditions you cannot control?

Also, explore where you are ahead of the plan. Is this progress due to a great team, or is there an external factor reducing barriers or driving results? You are looking for factors that you need to examine as you turn to next year’s plans.

This exercise is likely to produce a pretty long list, and you will need to go through a ranking process to determine how to use your resources to research them before your next planning cycle.

These three steps, classifying issues as obstacles to address or issues to invest more resources to explore, dedicating time to explore external factors emerging, and finally turning your attention to internal factors, will help you achieve two important strategic management objectives. Sticking to your plan to make progress on long-range goals AND responding to changing conditions in the most disruptive way.

Learn more about strong strategic leadership.

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