It’s a very risky proposition to stake the future of your organization on a return to “business as usual” by the end of 2020. Most of the assumptions that underpinned three- or five-year strategic plans at the time of their writing have been upended so fast that we’re seeing clients in various stages of crisis planning this week. Pandemics—or any crises—are not a normal planning scenario.
Things are changing too quickly to make new long-range plans; everything is day-to-day, even hour-to-hour. It’s generally not possible for organizations to even make adjustments to their existing strategic plans, because the current situation is so different than what was anticipated. The normal stresses of management are magnified, exacerbating normal interpersonal frictions. We’re being called in to help mediate struggles for power and control that have exposed significant differences in risk tolerance and sense of urgency for action between leaders.
What is your three-week strategic plan?
For years now, we’ve been saying that the world is changing too fast for strategy to be left for annual (or biennial) retreats. Strategy today must be a discipline of management. As markets and global economic conditions became more complex, this became essential. Now—in a time of near chaos—it’s an absolute imperative.
Agile strategy is now the most important management discipline.
Fortunately, agile strategy is scalable. Whether you’re planning for three weeks or three years, there are some fundamentals that remain the same….
Get the right people at the table. Don’t try to make your crisis plan in a vacuum; put the right people in the room the first time around. This can shorten the time required for consultation. We help clients determine who should be Responsible, Accountable, Consulted, and Informed (the RACI framework) for key decisions. This can lead to having people in meetings that are not usually privy to “inside information,” but transparency can build trust and understanding at a time when trust is exceptionally valuable.
Engage your people as whole people. We recommend facilitating crisis planning meetings in a way that respects and acknowledges peoples’ personalities and emotions—without compromising on making the decisions that are urgent and needed. This is especially important when most people are carrying heightened concern for the safety and wellbeing of their families through their working hours. This can be as simple as giving space for people to share their sense of what is urgent and important, personally and professionally, at the start of meetings so that all participants can be fully present. Lead with short questions that get to the point and limit rambling.
Cultivate wisdom by protecting independent thinking.
Tame the ‘what ifs’ with scenario planning. We use a variety of approaches to conduct a structured approach to risk assessment across all aspects of our clients’ business models. Some vary from one industry to the next; some approaches work no matter the sector. You can avoid ‘groupthink’ by starting brainstorms on risks individually (or in pairs) before convening as a whole group. It’s really valuable at this time to clearly state your assumptions—you’ll revisit them frequently over the coming months.
Double down on your vision, mission, and values. Crises are precisely the situations for which you spent the time wringing your hands over these troublesome statements. Return to them now and reconfirm for yourself, your team, and your public audiences: “Through this crisis, the one thing we will not compromise is…(fill in the rest of the sentence)”. This will be a valuable complement to the update on your website with the changes to your hours or terms of service, and may invite more interesting conversations with customer or clients.
Identify timely opportunities. It’s been inspiring to see the outpouring of support people and organizations are offering to one another during this crisis. However, it’s important to note that this is not the appropriate time for non-profits to solicit donations from people disproportionately impacted by the crisis. On the other hand, it is timely to help people provide the most appropriate support. For example, money is much more useful to food banks (and safer) than donated food.
Similarly, it is appropriate for businesses to adopt completely different ways of operating, even if temporarily, in the name of public and employee safety. Ask your employees for ideas, and trust their assessments of the needs that must be addressed, and the risks that must be faced, from a not-normal operating situation.
As a team that works for clients across North America and Europe, working remotely is not new for Junxion—please reach out, wherever you are, and we will do what we can to offer support. We wish for health and wellbeing to all who may read this in the coming weeks.
Garth Yule is a Managing Director at Junxion. You can reach him via [email protected].