Brackets and Business Plans: Only One Can Be Put Back Together!

March Madness and the Art of Strategic Business Planning

March Madness and the Art of Strategic Business Planning

March Madness is arguably my favorite thing in the world, right after my wife and kids, of course. There’s something about diving into those brackets, analyzing data, and making your picks that just fills you with optimism. Your completed bracket is a work of art.  It’s the finished product from all your research and difficult decision-making. But then, the games begin, and suddenly, your masterpiece looks like it’s been through a shredder. I know you can understand this feeling.

A March Madness bracket can be very similar to a strategic plan for your business.  The beauty of the strategic plan, however, is that you can review, revise, adapt, and adjust as you move forward. Imagine if you could apply the same principle to your March Madness bracket, starting fresh from the Sweet 16. You have more data, information, and insight than you did before the tourney started.  There are new trends emerging (Cinderellas), new technology (standout players), and other factors affecting your industry or market.  Running a business should carry bigger stakes than your bracket challenge, depending on how you gamble.  Unlike March Madness though, you get the chance to take the pieces of a busted strategic plan and regroup and adapt.  The one thing that never changes is the pursuit of the ultimate goal; the Championship.  Keep that North Star as the long-term focus, but adjust how your business is going to get there.

The Game of Adaptation

In business, like in March Madness, the unexpected should be expected. You might start the fiscal year with a confident plan, but market trends, competitor actions, and internal challenges can throw you off course.  This is where the ability and willingness to adjust and iterate become an advantage.  It’s crucial to assess your business’s performance regularly, just as you’d check your bracket’s progress, and be ready to make any necessary changes.

Learning from the Upsets

Learning from the Upsets

The tournament’s upsets can be shocking, but after the fact, you can often make an argument that the underdog should have won.  It could be a star player who steps up or a streaky 3-point shooting run, but it is usually the team executing a clear and specific plan designed to beat the favorite.  When we use that hindsight, we can break down how it was done and, potentially, how to do it again.  Similarly, in business, unforeseen challenges can provide insights into market trends, customer preferences, and your own operational strengths and weaknesses. Reviewing and understanding these various lessons allows you to refine your strategies and come back stronger.

The Sweet 16 Reset

Now, think about the Sweet 16 of your business year. You’ve seen what works and what doesn’t, and it’s time to either tweak your strategy or double down. Just as a coach might change their game plan based on their team’s performance in the early rounds, you too can recalibrate your business strategies.  You have the availability of data, experience, and insights to help guide you and your team.  I’ve talked a lot about making changes and adjustments, but if you find that your team is dominating, don’t change a thing.  Keep pushing in the direction unless you see a reason to change course.

The Cinderella Factor

In March Madness, everyone loves a Cinderella story – the underdog team that goes far beyond expectations. There’s a parallel in business, where sometimes, a dark horse product, a new market, or an innovative strategy can emerge as a game-changer. Staying open to these possibilities can lead to significant breakthroughs and success stories.  Are you the Loyola Chicago, St. Peters, or George Mason?  If so, can you use that to your advantage in your strategic planning?  Are your competitors confident they will win, giving you an element of surprise?  Nobody should sleep on the underdog because people love a good Cinderella story.

Steady Hands on the Wheel

Despite the chaos and the upsets, one thing remains true: you don’t need to overhaul everything at the first sign of an upset.  I wrote a couple of months ago about how the Detroit Lions coach, Dan Campbell stuck to his strategy and what got them to the NFC Championship game.  He made aggressive decisions that many would second guess the day after their loss.  The strategy was not the problem, but the team just didn’t execute when they needed it most.  Be capable of adapting and evolving where necessary, but also trust in the groundwork you’ve laid.

As we go from enjoyment to misery and back to enjoyment this March, remember that you have the power to adapt, learn, and adjust in your business.  Pick up the pieces of your bracket off the floor, find an underdog to cheer for if your team is out, and check out some great basketball.  While you’re watching, take a look the latest strategic plan for your business and decide if you need to double down, make adjustments, or pivot.  Your bracket may be busted, but your business is destined to see that One Shining Moment!