How Will You Plan in an Uncertain World?

We live in a fast-changing world, with more external pressures than ever before, and many outside our control. If we didn’t know it before COVID-19, we definitely know it now. And a global pandemic is just one of the many disruptions we will face in the short, medium, and long term.

In a fast-changing world, it’s impossible to predict the future, especially beyond the short term. So you make a plan, but even as you’re doing it, you worry that it’s already out of date.

As boxer Mike Tyson said,

“Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.”

So do you just keep on making unrealistic plans, knowing something will come along to punch you in the face?

No! There’s a better way.

The things you don’t know WILL hurt you!

The pandemic – and other disruptions – affect us all in different ways, but the one thing that’s certain is we’re facing more uncertainty. But the solution is not to give up planning for the future. It’s about better understanding for the future.

Make no mistake – uncertainty changes everything. Some people become paralysed by fear, others cross their fingers and hope for the best, and others continue in a false sense of security that nothing has changed. But the best people, leaders, teams, and organisations roll up their sleeves and take action.

Aim for flexibility rather than accuracy. Imagine multiple futures, assess their plausibility, and keep your options open.

When you get this right, you’ll be significantly more productive because you and your team understand the risks and opportunities in the future, and you have created an organisation (and culture) that’s positioned to leverage those opportunities to stay ahead of the game.

That’s where Scenario Planning comes in.

In 1965, the oil company Shell (then Royal Dutch Shell) started its ‘department of long-term studies’ in London. The ‘department’ consisted of a handful of people, who delivered a ‘Year 2000’ study report, projecting long-term outlooks for the company. Rather than trying to make clear, precise predictions (an impossible task), the group explored a series of alternative futures, and developed plausible stories for how they could pan out.

They then presented this to Shell management, so they could incorporate these scenarios into their strategic planning. That made the strategic plans more robust, but without being set in stone. Because Shell considered multiple future scenarios, they could be flexible and respond quickly as the world changed around them.

The leaders at Shell were well ahead of their time in the 1960s. Now, the world is changing exponentially faster, and we have to be even better prepared for future shocks and disruptions. So we need this kind of scenario planning more than ever.

 

Program Outline

This program helps you and your leadership team understand the external pressures you will face in the future, to help with your medium-term and long-term planning.

Broadly, it involves four modules – Scan, Assess, Choose, and Use.

Note: This is only a broad outline of the program, to give you an idea of how it might look. But in practice, EVERY time I run this program, it’s slightly different because we tailor it to your specific organisation, goals, and the roles of the people in the room.

MODULE 1: SCAN

I lead you in conducting an environmental scan to help you identify the external pressures that could affect your industry. I do some of this for you in advance, and then facilitate a discussion where you continue to build on this to scan even wider for key trends, opportunities, and threats.

This is the session where you’re getting the most value from me as a futurist, because I draw from the research I’m constantly doing – from different experts and across many industries. It will broaden your perspective, which is especially important for the rest of the program.

MODULE 2: ASSESS

In this module, the group takes the key future trends identified in the environmental scan and assesses their impact on the short-term, medium-term, and long-term strategy. In other words, this is where you narrow down the trends to those that matter most to you.

This is a very interactive module, which involves a lot of discussion in the group. I guide and facilitate the discussion, but it’s mostly for the participants to apply their expertise and experience.

MODULE 3: CHOOSE

Although you have now identified the key trends, not all of them will have the same impact on your strategy. This will vary, depending on your market position, brand, structure, and even the roles of the people in the group. So, in this module, we take the key future trends from the previous module and work them up into a few (often four) plausible future scenarios.

Again, this is a very interactive session, which usually involves a lot of robust discussion (that’s good!). At the end of this module, the group will have identified clear future scenarios that will feed into your strategic plan.

MODULE 4: USE

Now it’s time to transfer ideas into actions, either to feed into your strategic plan or to guide operations directly. I facilitate this session, where participants discuss the ideas and identify how they will overlay these scenarios into their future.

This is also an interactive module, with a lot of discussion within the participants. But it’s also the session where individual participants create their own strategy for incorporating these scenarios into their individual areas of responsibility.

Program Format

This program works as a stand-alone workshop (either in-person or online), or as an introduction into a more in-depth strategic planning process with your team. If you’re creating your strategic plan, this program will broaden your perspective and help you make better-informed decisions.

We can discuss the best format to suit your needs. For example, here are some of the formats I have used in the past for delivering this program:

  • A one-day  workshop as the first day of a longer senior leadership forum
  • A two-day standalone workshop for senior leaders to help them be more future-ready in their thinking
  • An online program, with each of the modules delivered a few weeks apart, to give people time to reflect and act between each session
  • The first module (environmental scanning) delivered as a conference masterclass

Case Studies

Next Steps

Let’s talk about how we can work together to use scenario planning to improve your leadership and future planning. To find out more, phone me on 0417 928 278 or e-mail gihan@gihanperera.com.