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  • Writer's pictureSteven Bustin

Uncertain planning in uncertain times, 3 Tips for Success

How does a business realistically plan in these uncertain, tumultuous and disturbing times? How can a business possibly create and execute on a realistic plan during a global Pandemic that is now acceleratingly worse than when it started?

To paraphrase Donald Rumsfeld’s famous quote; we know what we know about the pandemic’s effect on business, we know what we don’t know about future effects, but we don’t know what we don’t know about the future effects.

Uncertain times demands uncertain planning. Not uncertain planning in the sense that we create plans that are not measurable, not definitive, not goal oriented. Just the opposite. Businesses need to make definitive and measure goals and plans to accomplish them. But, uncertainty, it all has to be based on the reality of uncertainty. We have to accept the fact that there will be surprising, unanticipated, non-forecasted, truly unbelievable events that may happen and embed that acceptance and philosophy into business plans.

There are three areas essential to good business planning during these times.

Make People First

If you don’t take care of your people you can’t take care of your business, any business. Keep that in mind during planning. Your employees are under far more duress than any other time in memory. Social, economic, cultural and of course, health issues are challenging them (and you) in ways we have not seen before. We are all still working our way through this and most experts agree it will be another 18-24 months before we truly are in an accepted normal environment.

Incorporate remote working, hybrid office models, flex-time, provided technology, IT support and extended or reimagined resources and benefits for your people into plans. If you are employing remote workers in other countries, remember they are dealing with the same challenges.

Also keep in mind that ethnic minorities and women are disproportionately affected by the Pandemic according to McKinsey and other firms. So be aware and make sure your plan has to ability to adapt to individual needs.

Set Primary and Secondary Goals

This is standard planning but perhaps more important during these times. Create a plan that allows you to move from a primary goal to a secondary goal and then treat it as a primary goal. Your secondary goals may well be part of a different revenue model. A good example of this has been many restaurants that went to take-out and then outdoor dining. If you are a retail business you may need to move from a primary goal based on sales revenue per square foot to a secondary goal of

maintaining market share in a declining market. Or you may move the bulk of your sales to online, self-service digital platforms. According to McKinsey again, 70% of buyers prefer digital interactions now and sellers are on board also. But even within those metrics, in terms of planning, be adaptive and flexible. Perhaps your primary goal is sales of your top 5 services, but it may need to change to retention of your top 5 accounts by offering extended credit terms or additional remote services. Whatever it may be for your business, plan for a moving target of customer responses and measurements of success.

Plan for What If Becoming What Is

Have a vision for the uncertain but possible. As our business, cultural, political and professional lives have all encountered previously considered impossible scenarios, so should you include that in your planning. Assume a “what if” will become a “what is”. None of us predicted how business would be in 2020, but we can plan for scenarios, as best we can, for events and consequences that can drive change in our business models, service offerings, infrastructure and more. Have at least 2 alternative scenarios for each major section of your business, be it changes in your customer base, availability of human or structural resources, economic shutdowns, restricted hours or anything else you can think of that may affect your business. Know that most of those will not come to pass, but plan anyway, at least tentatively. And know that a scenario may develop that you could not plan for, did not anticipate and be committed to agile planning and adaptive execution. We can certainly hope none of them come true, but remember, hope is not a strategy and uncertainty is a reality.

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