Who knew when I designed  these strategic planning sessions back in January what would  have happened in the world by March?  I certainly didn’t. However, because the approach is high level, collaborative and effective, the sessions can really help SMEs and sole traders to work out the impact of Covid-19, on business plans and timelines. The aproach can be used for any type of integrated planning – from business startup, to contingency plans to disaster recovery. 

Can workshops practice social distancing? 

At a creative planning workshop last week, we adhered to social distancing and additional hygiene guidelines which had just been introduced. Two people were family members so sat together, the others spaced out. My style is always to reproduce flip-chart type diagrams onto slides. This helps with simplicity, engagement and visibility from a distance. Because these are public workshops rather than onsite projects, there are distinct business groups working on individual plans, which aided visibility and social distancing. However because all group exercises were similar, collaboration was excellent, helping everyone to reach a common understanding of the tool and make comparable progress. The refreshment facilities and the staff were superb  with many additional hygiene measures evidently in place.  Unfortunately we found out later that we were the last customers in this lovely community centre. 

Transformation map

We used a TMap to help SME attendees to strategically plan how they could best achieve their business vision. The TMap is simple, visual and with good facilitation, it encourages  people to be creative, collaborative and to comprehensively plan their business direction. There is more on the mechanics of the TMap here.  

Define the vision

During the workshop, SMEs were initially asked to define their vision for their business. This can prove more difficult than you might imagine! People sometimes realise that their vision isn’t necessarily financial success, it’s often connected to their values – supporting others or personal growth.

Identify key activities 

They then reviewed their current action plans, diary commitments and To Do lists to see how these activities fit with their business vision. I facilitated a couple of exercises to prompt further brainstorming and planning. We used Hopes and Fears, and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats).

Listing hopes and fears helps people recognise they are two sides of the same coin. They are then able to switch their mindset from a concern to a hope relatively easily. SWOT helps people take a step back from day-to-day activity. It encourages them to think more widely or longer-term about things like training needs, or changing environments. The impact of Covid-19 arose during this exercise.  

Decide business strands

Attendees then grouped all the outputs from their current plans, Hopes and Fears and SWOT exercises into high-level strands of activity on their transformation maps. For business startups, themes included Technical training, Market research, Product research, Personal development, Customer analysis, Marketing, Branding and Social media.  For a long-established business, planning included Marketing review, Covid-19 impact and Sales conversions.  

Set timelines

Due to the design of the TMap, the strands at the top start earlier than those at the base of the map. So the SMEs  allocated their business strands accordingly.  They prioritised  the activities within each strand, according to priority, and plotted them against their pre-determined timeline on the transformation map.

This visual, iterative process of identifying themes and allocating activities to themes, helped attendees to identify duplication, gaps and convert negatives like fears and threats into positive mindsets and actions.    

Covid-19 contingency planning

We dealt with Covid19 as part of the planning discussion, in the creative, collaborative spirit that TMaps always encourage. This kept things objective, and enabled us to work out the full, potential, impact on their businesses. A positive was that CV-19 was identified as an ‘opportunity’ for one business which focusses on boosting immunity, and ‘nil effect’ on another which was in the research phase of their digital startup business.

All in all, it was a good way to use what was a very strange day. Very grateful to the attendees and others who made the event possible despite the rapidly changing coronavirus advice that week. 

Further information and support

If you think this approach would be helpful for you to think through the impacts of Covid-19 on your business plans, please get in touch for an initial free discussion from which we can set up a Zoom or Skype meeting as appropriate.  Please contact me on 07824 660120, or email info@losethebox.co.uk. With very best wishes.

Maureen Whyman, Lose the Box, Nottingham.

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