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Around 90% of businesses don’t reach their strategic goals, research shows. Having worked in corporate strategy and planning for some time, I can’t say I’m surprised. It has been my experience that businesses are often too heavy on planning and too light on preparation.
What’s the difference? Planning is knowing the next step, whereas preparation is having the resources to complete it. When plans change — and they absolutely will — preparation is what helps you reorient and point to your goals. To be successful in business, you need both.
For the past few years, I’ve been part of a short-term organization in the financial services industry. Since the beginning, we have operated with the knowledge that we will close once we’ve served our purpose. Leading in this environment has taught me a lot about execution and building teams equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to keep moving forward, even when things don’t go according to plan.
Here are five lessons I will be taking with me to my next opportunity.
1. Understand your data and have a plan
In today’s tech-forward world, data is one of the most valuable assets a company can have. Depending on your industry and the data you collect, you can’t just wipe your hard drives when your doors finally close and call it done.
Many sectors have data retention policies and compliance regulations that must be adhered to even after closing. Even if your company is doing well and growing, you need to be aware of the policies and regulations surrounding company data and plan for what to do with it in the event of a close.
Mishandling data can be a costly mistake. I suggest hiring a strong data team early and implementing a strategy that ensures data is properly structured and warehoused from the get-go. By doing so, you avoid diverting critical resources at the wind-down to ensure data is compliant.
2. Attract the right talent with a clear opportunity
When hiring for short-term roles, you must be clear and upfront about the skills and opportunities a position provides to attract the right talent. Professionals seeking provisional work tend to be more goal-oriented and focused on growth. They will only select positions that provide them with the opportunities to advance those goals. As a result, employers gain focused, mission-driven team members in exchange for specific experience.
While short-term opportunities are not ideal for every industry, driving recruitment through opportunity most certainly is, even for traditional long-term roles. It provides talent with a clear exchange of value — you do this for us, and in return, we do this for you. Just be sure to follow through with those opportunities when the time comes.
3. Keep information accessible and centralized
Working in a wind-down business means you can’t afford to waste time or money. Fostering clear and consistent communication is a top priority from day one; you need to get everyone on the same page and keep them there.
I manage this by creating a communal knowledge base that all team members can access and contribute to. Everything that team members need to know about the project or business goes here — processes, email templates, business plans, weekly goals, metrics — it all resides in the same place. And, since things are constantly changing, I make sure everyone integrates updating documentation into their daily routine. Adding changes then becomes second nature, and information is less likely to fall through the cracks. I’ve found this method also helps virtual teams by filling in the “watercooler conversation” gap that results from not being in an office.
4. Be flexible and learn to manage change
There is a time and a place to use the business strategy of “wait and see,” but I feel it is often abused. If you are on a deadline, whether for an end-of-year goal or a quarterly project, there comes a point when it is too late to change and reach the desired result. It is on you if you let your team cross that threshold. A good manager regularly monitors progress to stay abreast of changes, leaving plenty of room to pivot and change course. Measure everything and let your data guide your decisions.
When you make a change, and it will happen, it’s equally important that you clearly communicate it to your team. Think through your dependencies and create a list of who and what will be affected. State these terms clearly and document them in your knowledge base.
5. Do a full technology audit
Technology has become one of the most important resources a business can have and is easily one of the most expensive. Without proper management, tech stacks can quickly evolve into money-draining monsters of inefficiency. I’ve seen more than one company pay for solutions that went unused because no one was keeping track. That’s why I encourage every business to conduct a technology audit frequently.
Working with your IT and vendor management teams, create a comprehensive list of what programs and solutions are in use across the business. Define how much these tools cost, how often they are used, who provides the service and when they’re paid. Gather all the contracts and read through them carefully. You need to document the end dates, the length of the renewal period, the policies around early termination, any associated penalties and whether there is room to negotiate new terms. Now you have a comprehensive view of your tech stack, and anytime the company wants to revisit technology investment, all the need-to-know information is in one place. Doing this exercise saves time, money and helps with audits.
Running a business and winding it down takes an enormous amount of planning. However, it’s only half the equation when it comes to achieving business goals. Planning only provides directions and a destination, but preparation is the car that takes them there — and they’ll still have a way forward if things take a detour or two.