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Can you really do effective strategic planning, virtually?

1st May, 2020

Virtual working

At this time of year in boardrooms, off-sites and break-out rooms around the country, commercial teams are updating or putting together their plans.

This year, however, many of these same teams are focused on firefighting, budget-cutting and short-term priorities instead, all whilst learning to work from home.

Oxford has always helped teams create effective growth plans by developing bespoke, simple approaches that are built live in hands-on sessions, and we are increasingly being asked whether it can or even should be done now.

Yes, it should

Addressing the short-term is understandably dominating efforts at the moment, but the evidence shows that those brands that have invested in the long-term during a recession are the ones that come out of the blocks more strongly with the green shoots of recovery, just as P&G have recently announced – taking a long-term view in a short-term world.

Effective growth planning does not just balance focus across the two, but ensures that the short term does not come at the expense of the long term. It should be done.

But can it be done with everyone working from home?

Definitely. We have just completed a fully virtual, live-action growth planning event with Edrington, the global drinks company that owns leading brands such as The Macallan and The Famous Grouse. We’ve partnered closely with Edrington over the last three years to transform how their global and local teams plan, and as lockdown coincided with a planned 3-day global strategy workshop across six brand teams and fifty people, our challenge was to take it virtual. And with two weeks to prepare.

Virtual can be effective for strategic planning

We’ve always been a virtual business and know how effective it can be when done well:

  1. It makes planning genuinely living and collaborative; the benefit of creating a plan in a digital space that allows teams to work together in real time, and allows the plan to live on as a working document
  2. Teams have ‘always on’ access to data and resources to help with their decision-making during their plan-building: a challenge in an off-site work session
  3. Teams have access to ‘always on’ expert consultants. Live plan-building is how Oxford works best anyway, but in a virtual world teams can have access to a wider pool of experts, dropping in and out of sessions more easily and flexibly to share experience and guidance

“I much preferred this to the paper approach”

We've also had feedback like this:

“Teams room with video actually accelerated output and discussion”

But to make the most of these it does require careful planning.

Design, preparation and keeping it human

  1. Put time into design, not tech: We use the usual collaborative platforms, but where effort must focus is on designing the best virtual experience across them. Design for a mix of interactive plenary sessions for stimulus and discussion, and team working rooms for live plan-building, using the right platform at the right time
  2. Prepare, prepare and prepare some more: Fully finished pre-work for the plan must be combined with helping teams prepare for (new) virtual ways of working, and clear guidance and feedback must be given for each. Avoid cutting corners in either
  3. Remove the tech boundaries: Keeping engagement frequent, informal and discursive is key. Asking for feedback is important when you can’t read body language; checking in to understand how the teams are getting on and offering support. Virtual allows the facilitators to be a more integral part of the planning groups than they might be in a formal workshop setting, which can be a huge benefit for the teams
  4. Acknowledge the situation: Don’t pretend everything is normal; the tough questions cannot be avoided, and it’s even more important to address them head-on when virtual. Realise also that home situations have changed: we kept working times flexible and helped teams to engage families through an activity pack that walked children through some of the same questions their parents were answering as they designed their own new soft drink, learning as they go. The event closed with each brand team telling their new growth story, the prize-giving of a professional design for the best kids' soft drink, and, of course, a virtual toast to the group
Pack

A brave call that paid off

We’ve worked hard with Edrington to put in place and embed a simple, effective and evidence-based growth planning approach, which has undoubtedly set them up for success for planning in any environment.

But it took bravery and commitment on their part to resist the instinct to hunker down and focus purely on the now in an industry hugely affected by the current circumstances, and instead to create the time to look ahead, plan with purpose for the next chapter, and hopefully exit the blocks with their brands in a stronger place.

If you’re thinking about how, or even whether, to build a plan virtually, let’s discuss your challenges and how we might be able to help.

Please do get in touch - we’d be delighted to hear from you.

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