My business partner had me stumped when he asked ‘how can I possibly tell business owners that strategy is important when something like Covid-19 can come along and make all the planning in the world useless’? …

For many years we have subscribed to the paradigm of strategic thinking and implementation planning. Like clockwork, we’ve run annual strategic planning workshops with our team and implemented with the regular rhythm of quarterly review and reset sessions and monthly check-ins.

And so, just like every other year, in November 2019, we held our two day strategy retreat, getting the minds of our team engaged in planning an awesome 2020. And it started out as a phenomenal year – the first quarter was our most successful one yet, we had a streamlined, powerhouse of a team and we were kicking our strategy goals.

Then Covid-19 hit.

Overnight (or at least that’s what it felt like at the time), the needs of our clients changed. In fact, their viability and ability to engage our help changed significantly. And in amongst what seemed to be a mad scramble to keep abreast of all the information, legislation and restrictions, we had to find time to pause and reflect on what this meant for Focus HR.
My memory of this is one that I think will remain a vivid time marker in business for me. My business partner, Alistair Green, and I were sitting in our little office courtyard talking about what all of this meant for our business. That week we’d turned on a dime and had the whole team set up to work from home, we’d had 2 long-standing clients tell us they couldn’t afford to keep us on, and we both had friends in business who we knew were suffering – and we felt deeply for them.

I was having a moment of beating myself up that I didn’t seem to be able to read fast enough, respond fast enough, and just generally not being able to keep up with what our business, our team and our clients needed. And Alistair was having a rare moment of questioning the value of strategic planning.

That stopped me in my self-berating tracks.

Here was a person who, for as long as I had known him, spoke about strategy as generating the purpose and pulse that drove a business to success. And he was asking me ‘how can I possibly tell business owners that strategy is important when something like Covid-19 can come along and make all the planning in the world useless’?

That stumped us both for a moment. And so we started to reflect.

The strategy that we had set for 2020 was focused on two main things. Firstly creating ‘assets’ for all our service offerings (being a professional services provider, when we say assets we mean well-designed templates, complete workflows, detailed knowledge banks, etc to be highly efficient at service delivery). And secondly, getting crystal clear about who we were as a company and making sure the world knew what we stood for in the people, leadership and strategy space – that is, our brand personality and the unique position or voice we wanted to share. These two elements were driving us towards a purpose driven business, working with a highly productive, humming team, doing work that we enjoyed doing, and making a real difference while working with great clients.

Our planning had also made us realise that we needed to make some tough decisions on the type of work that we would and wouldn’t do and also some really tough decisions on the make-up of our team. We made those decisions early in 2020 and because of that, went into Covid-19 with a streamlined team and clear focus.

Fast-forward to early April 2020 and that afternoon in the courtyard.

We realised that strategy had not failed us. In fact, it gave us the best possible chance of not just surviving, but thriving in this crisis. The mindset you need to think strategically and the discipline you need to implement effectively had been embedded in our people for the past 5 years. It meant that when Covid hit, they already knew how to think beyond our 4 walls, react to the market, and were response-ready.
When we took our dilemma to them at the next team meeting they confirmed for us – our 2020 strategy was actually more relevant than ever. Our plans to build assets meant that the whole team could continue to do meaningful work to strengthen the business, even if/when client work got quieter. And our focus on sharing our position, our voice and our knowledge came to the fore in releasing a series of VLOGS, webinars, information sheets, and website & social media updates to help other businesses in the community respond to the pandemic.
And so our belief in the power of strategic thinking and implementation planning is stronger than ever. And we will continue to use it as the driving force behind the direction of Focus HR.