October 31, 2016

Outside your comfort zone is where real change happens

By Tim Kerstein, Director of Solutions Development

There I sat, my latest challenge laid out on the table in front of me. Focused, I consider my next move. This one or that one? Then, my mother interrupts my train of thought to suggest a different tactic. She says, "What about…" and I say "NO!" as I push her hand away. "I’ve got this." 

I was 10 years old, putting together a jigsaw puzzle. I was a self-proclaimed genius at puzzles, but this one had me stumped. None of my normal tactics seemed to be working. 

Fast forward…ahem…a few years. Hindsight is 20/20 and I can clearly see the problem. That puzzle was a different kind of challenge than I was used to. The picture was more complicated and there were more pieces, but I was using the same strategy as I did on previous puzzles. It had worked before, after all. I was resistant to taking a different approach—I preferred comfort over change.

Whether your puzzle is made of cardboard and spread across a kitchen table or made of sales territories and spread across a continent, it is easy to fall into a routine when it comes to strategic planning. Often, our mindset is that strategic planning has a beginning and an end. We look at it as a routine task we perform, and not a process. Daily activities take priority and monopolize our attention, because it is easier to focus on the “now” rather than the future. The “now” is when we are executing against those strategies, so it is certainly important… but by putting emphasis on what is happening today, we miss the forest for the trees.

On the other hand, if the emphasis is on looking broader and engaging in the process, that’s when you make real progress. This requires stepping outside your comfort zone, thinking beyond the status quo, and NOT following business as usual. Engaging in the process of strategic planning should include thoroughly challenging assumptions, seeking new information, and reacting accordingly.

Bottom line, we simply cannot assume that what worked last time is still a sound strategy the next time around. Why? Because change is always happening.

Change Never Stops

The speed of change seems to be increasing in our industry, M&A activity across the entire ag value chain and especially among “big ag” players in recent years and months have changed the makeup of the food and agriculture industry in unprecedented ways. First you have the consolidations between Dow and DuPont, Syngenta and ChemChina, and most recently Bayer and Monsanto. Then there’s weak commodity prices, and consumer pressures that continue to force changes upon us, whether we like it or not. You get the point. Change is never going to quit. Our industry is different today, and it will look different in years to come. So, should we be treating our strategic planning process as business as usual? I vote, "no".

Regardless of where your business is at today, here are some key points for you to remember when crafting your strategies:

  1. Seek out assistance from someone that has experience with a broader view – like my mother with the jigsaw puzzle.
  2. Question your process, even if it worked before, changing markets may require an adapt or die mentality.
  3. Be open to new approaches, and tap into all the resources available to help you get through challenging situations. If you want to keep up in today’s environment, you need a team. Such collaboration could be the key to getting you to see what is outside your comfort zone.

It is important to note that routines can be good. You should make a routine of revisiting your plans annually—that is critical. You should make a habit of checking in on your plan’s effectiveness as you execute against the strategies so you can make adjustments where necessary. But simply creating a strategic plan to get it done is ineffective—if strategic planning is only a checkmark on your to do list, then the output is going to suffer.

Strategic thinking is difficult and uncomfortable at times. That’s how you know it is gaining traction. Question what your company’s offering does to benefit your customers?  Why are you unique?  Sometimes getting to the answers requires a different strategic planning process.  By sticking with the routine assumptions and a fill-in-the-blanks planning process, you will only become further entrenched in old routines while the world is changing around you.

Entira offers a variety of strategic planning services to support our clients' needs. If you are looking for a new strategic planning framework outside your comfort zone, we can support you by facilitating a strategic planning meeting and providing a framework your team can implement. If you have a strategic business challenge that needs attention, we will work with you to dissect the problem and create an action plan tailored to your business. Or, if you simply need new information or insight to bolster your strategic planning process, we will work with you to identify and obtain actionable information to improve your final output.

If you want to talk about how to take the "routine" out of your strategic planning process, contact me at tkerstein@entira.net.