Strategic Planning in Uncertain Times

In an increasingly fast-paced and uncertain world, planning for the future can seem overwhelming. However, you don’t have to let an uncertain landscape stall your organization. Rather than feeling stuck, here are some strategies that you can implement to keep your organization moving forward even in uncertain times:

  • Identify Flexible Strategies – Develop strategies that allow pivots or have built in flexibility. Rather than locking yourself into plans that would only work in one situation, think of things that can be adapted to different futures. If you are thinking about a new IT system, look for a vendor that can develop one that is modular or easily adaptable to different functions.
  • Scenario Planning and Contingencies – Use available information to develop multiple scenarios and begin exploring those scenarios. Do some initial work that will allow you to quickly respond when the regulatory environment becomes clear. Position yourself to move more quickly than your competition. For example, in an environment where the regulatory landscape is shifting, you may want to scout locations for alternate manufacturing sites in case new regulations make current locations unviable.
  • Strengthen your Core – If you can’t develop external strategies, use this time to focus on improving key internal work. Things like accounting and finance, HR, communications, talent development and succession planning are always important and are great candidates for improvement initiatives. Building a stronger, more efficient organization will always pay dividends.
  • Develop your People – Work to develop a culture and workforce that is more adaptable to change. Focus on leadership skills, change management, and continuous improvement practices that will strengthen your organization to be more adaptable and better equipped to handle uncertain times. My favorite example of this is the case of Toyota’s Aisin Fire – Because Toyota was used to reengineering and improving their processes, they were able to quickly recover from a fire that would have left other companies crippled for weeks. (http://leanleaders.pbworks.com/f/The+Toyota+Group+and+the+Aisin+Fire.pdf) Building these muscles within your organization will enable you to respond quicker to a changing landscape.
  • Dynamically Manage your Plan – Instead of developing 3-5 year initiatives and locking yourself into them, develop short-term actions that are aligned with long-term goals. This requires:
    • A leadership team that can and will continue to meet on an on-going basis
    • Well conceived long-term objectives and goals
    • Discipline to know when to stay the course and when to make changes
    • A more agile approach to developing actions and managing progressThis approach requires a little more work and some discipline, but it enables you to more quickly respond to external changes. I believe this is a good approach to managing your plan in general, but this becomes even more important in uncertain environments.

The future is always uncertain. But, by focusing on the things you can control, being mindful of the things you can’t, and maintaining a bias for action, you can succeed even during the most turbulent times.