Intentional Leadership During Economic Uncertainty

Intentional Leadership During Economic Uncertainty

If you’ve been in business awhile, the Great Recession may have been the first time your business was tested. And, since you’re still in business, congratulations!  You were one of the lucky ones.  The sad truth is more than 170,000 small businesses were killed off during that recession (from 2008 to 2010) according to analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data.

Of course, if you’re a new business owner, COVID-19 has likely been your first test in which you couldn’t control all the circumstances. And sadly, researchers at Harvard estimate that nearly 110,000 small businesses across the country shut down permanently between early March and early May 2020.  Those are devastating numbers and the situation is not over.

Your ability to survive and succeed as the pandemic lingers will depend on balancing both long-term strategic planning and short-term action planning. To do this, it’s important to regularly take inventory of the following:

  • Where does your business stand now?
  • Where do you want it to go?
  • How will you get there? What can you control?
  • What roadblocks might stop you?

Putting it this way may seem overly simplistic. But the fact is, many business owners struggle with this kind of intentional planning. Below, we’ll explore some reasons why.

Common Challenges

  • Fear of goal setting

Knowing how to effectively set goals is a hurdle and may be a skill you weren’t taught. Maybe that lack of knowledge stops you from establishing goals in the first place or maybe it results in poorly conceived goals that provide no real direction. Goals that are too vague, too unactionable, or not aligned with an overarching company vision won’t yield results.

  • Lack of goal alignment

If you do have set goals, another major mistake owners make is not clearly communicating them. Without alignment and buy-in from team leaders, it will be impossible to accomplish anything. And without buy in from hourly interns, to managers, to executives – you’ll never have a shared sense of responsibility and commitment that all parties are focused on the same end result.

  • Being caught up in the moment

Decisiveness is a good attribute in a leader. However, blind, in-the-moment decision making can cost you down the road. There are many moving parts to running a business and decisions that need to be made on a daily basis; it’s easy to get caught up in the short-term. Considering the future implications of each decision you make and how it affects your overall strategy can be easily neglected.

If you’re no stranger to these challenges or others when it comes to intentional planning and want to be a more intentional leader, consider these strategies.

SMART goal setting

When defining your goals, always keep in mind the acronym SMART. This states that goals should be Specific — how will you know when the goal has been met — Measurable — how will you track your progress — Attainable — has this been proven achievable in the past — Realistic — can this be achieved utilizing current resources — Timebound — when does it need to be completed by.

Long-term business goals

Now that you know how to set effective goals, it’s time to establish some long-term, aka three-to-five year, goals. These goals should all connect to your company’s mission, vision and values. Depending on the type of business, consider setting long-term goals in some or all of the following categories: annual revenue, profit, number of employees, number of locations, breadth of services, use of technology, team quality, industry reputation, corporate citizenship and debt position.

Quarterly action plans

Annual or long-term goals mean nothing without accompanying action plans. You’ve taken the time to thoughtfully establish your priorities, now it’s time to get moving. What steps are you going to take in the next three months to move the needle? Revisiting your goals every 90 days is key as it allows you to evaluate your progress and change your course of action if needed. You should be setting mini milestones to ensure you’re on track for the end of the year.

The Bottom Line

Maintaining a successful business during an economic downturn requires intentional leadership and planning. You may experience challenges when it comes to defining and communicating your goals or focusing on the long-term. Remember to set SMART goals, define what long-term success looks like and create actionable plans every quarter to make sure you get there.