Business Strategies
Operating Plans vs Strategic Plans in a Crisis
May 8, 2020

Most organizations conduct some type of annual strategic planning process, typically creating a long-range (~3 years) strategic plan that leads to the operating plan which begins activating the strategic plan for the next fiscal year.  When an unexpected major event or marketplace change happens, such as today’s pandemic, companies often find themselves scrambling to cut spending, people and investments to preserve cash, often without much consideration of the strategic plan.  However, while survival is the near-term priority, unless bankruptcy is a real near-term possibility, abandoning your strategic plans will later make returning to growth harder.

The immediate crisis definitely should prompt review of the strategic plan to see if it still makes sense.  First, consider whether the strategies remain relevant for the mid- and long-term.  A strong strategic plan is your North Star, as the strategies define how you’ll create long-term value.  If the crisis didn’t eliminate the basis for your strategies, they’ll likely remain largely appropriate.

However, the initiatives that support the strategic plan and form the operating plan likely need updating.  Some initiatives should be accelerated, others delayed.  And there may be new initiatives required to address the immediate crisis.  With or without a crisis, the operating plan which captures these initiatives that should always be flexible, adapting to new learning and situations.  Focusing on your strategic plan while updating the operating plan keeps the long-term focus on your North Star while you revise the operational plans to create a new path through today’s crisis that’ll take you there.