Establishing and clearly communicating future direction is one of the most important roles of organizational leaders. Organization planning post Covid-19 requires understanding the pandemics impact and how it reaches beyond human health and how its economic effects extend to every sector of the economy. This is requiring changes in every aspect of how organizations operate and how they interact with customers, suppliers, partners and stakeholders. Defining a future direction is no longer as simple as following a traditional strategic planning process. In the short-term organizations need to establish a framework for stabilizing operations and quickly adapting to a ‘next normal’. In the longer-term organizations will need to respond to changes in a world of unknown unknowns. The purpose of this document is to outline a model that will enable organizations to effectively respond and thrive in the next normal.
In the short-term response planning results in a set of actions that are implemented to quickly stabilize operations and respond to immediate challenges, risks and opportunities. Planning to address known unknowns prepares your organization to take informed, responsive actions by assessing COVID-19 impacts on the organization. The short-term planning process involves exploring each business area and assessing the impact of Covid-19 on each. These areas include an assessment of:
- The immediate impact of changes on customers, partners, suppliers, stakeholders and competitors
- Potential changes and improvements to products and services to address the impact, meeting challenges and seizing opportunities
- Workflow and process changes required including changes to supply chains
- New or changed skills or competencies required
- Premise and operational modifications required to address new customer interface requirements
- Updated or modified systems and technology to enable operating effectively in new environment
- Immediate short-term funding needs and sources
Questions that provide a background understanding of the current and future challenges, risk and opportunities include:
- How has the pandemic impacted our organization?
- Where have we had successes that we can build off of going forward? (remote working, revised services, etc.)
- Where have we had challenges/barriers that we need to address?
- How has the pandemic impacted our customers, suppliers, partners, stakeholders and competitors?
- Have there been changes to how people access, utilize or support our services? If so, how might this continue to evolve?
- What are the key trends that could positively or negatively impact the organization? (What gets you excited?
What keeps you up at night?) Consider:
- Continued presence of COVID and impacts
- Economic fallout from COVID (e.g. recession/depression)
- Changes in technology
- Market shifts
- Demographic shifts
- Political shifts
- Of these trends, which do you see having opportunities for the organization? Conversely, which do you see as threats or challenges?
- Of these trends which do you feel are the most significant and will be most disruptive if the organization doesn’t effectively plan and respond to them? Why?
- From your perspective, what additional information would we need to know to realize potential opportunities or mitigate threats/challenges related to these trends?
Longer-term planning adds adaptability to existing plans, allowing the organization to prepare for unforeseen future challenges, risks and opportunities. Organizations need to make explicit choices about what to continue, what to stop and what new things need to be done in the post Covid-19 world.
We are in an era of unknown unknowns, where futures are unclear and difficult to forecast. Organizations need to evolve their approach to respond to unknown unknowns by developing a robust understanding of the business implications of alternative recovery scenarios, (V, U, W and L shaped recovery models) and how they could affect each element of the organization. This includes identifying strategies for addressing implications and challenges and for leveraging opportunities.
The organization’s long-term strategies need to provide a mechanism for constant vigilance in a changing environment and position the organization to quickly adapt to changing health, economic and market conditions. To develop an appreciation of the future unknown unknowns, we utilize a robust scenario planning process that enables the organization to achieve an in-depth understanding of possible futures for the organization resulting from alternative recovery models. Scenarios help us plan by encouraging the visualization of realistic situations and the key trends or driving forces (clients, staff, policy, etc.) that affect how an organization might respond. Our process involves the development of realistic personas to examine the scenarios through multiple lenses that clearly define potential futures, thereby enabling the organization to develop robust response strategies.
Exploring each potential scenario, the organization is then able to determine the organization and business implications of each scenario and to identify strategies and approaches for mitigating challenges or risks and for leveraging and taking advantage of potential opportunities. Several key elements of organizational direction need to be revisited and confirmed. These include organizational purpose/mandate, core focus/niche, desired outcomes, vision/future aspirations and business strategies.
Purpose/mandate and Desired Outcomes
Purpose answers the question ‘why does the organization exist?’. It clarifies the underlying reason for being and existing. Is the stated purpose of your organization still valid and relevant in the emerging post Covid world or does it need to be modified? What unique outcomes will your organization deliver in the future?
Core Focus and Niche: Current Products/Services and Clients
Core Focus defines the unique niche within which your organization operates, the set of products and services the organization provides, and the customers being served. These need to be carefully assessed in the context of the potential future scenarios. Are services still of value? Are our customers going to be the same or are they going to be different with different needs and expectations? Are there opportunities in a new of different niche that has opened up as a result of pandemic impacts?
Vision and Future Aspirations
Vision defines what the organization could become and is a set of aspirations that define what ‘winning’ looks like. These aspirations should ignite passion and build commitment and provide an insight into what the future will look. Vision is not a slogan statement; it is a clear picture of the desired future.
Strategies for Success (How to Win)
Strategies define the high-level plan of action or a ‘game plan’ for taking advantage of opportunities, overcoming obstacles, and moving forward. Strategies define how the organization will achieve its vision and are the intentional directions that will guide decision making and provide a ‘lense’ through which decisions must be evaluated to ensure consistency and alignment. Strategies also explicitly define what the organization will not be doing or undertaking.
Once the organization has identified the implications and directions related to alternative future scenarios, it defines metrics and information that will tell the organization which recovery scenario is occurring. Thresholds and triggers need to be put in place to provide early warning of which direction is occurring.
About the Author:Rob is a leadership advisor, strategist and coach who designs and facilitates powerful sessions for defining future direction and priorities. He also provides one-on-one advice and coaching that enables leaders to address difficult and challenging situations. Rob brings an exceptional depth of organization, business, and leadership wisdom to facilitate the best decisions and outcomes.