As we sit in the emerging battle with Covid-19 many of us are trying desperately to envision the future and what role we have in it. In truth, we have insufficient information to make a prediction and any plans at this point. But that doesn’t mean we have to sit on the sofa watching HGTV waiting to see what shape the world will be in on the other side.
While there are too many future scenarios for one to envisage and analyze, there are, I think, three basic outcomes for us to consider.
The first is that this thing blows over relatively quickly and we return to as much of normal as we can muster. That still means some upset and some serious adjusting. Some things won’t come back but let’s assume most things do. Think of it like a hurricane or wildfire. It may take a couple of years, but soon we will forget it happened and most things will be back as they were.
The second is that there is no recovery. Things get worse and worse until most businesses are shut down and we lose a lot of folks. The population shrinks and those of us who survive are growing our food in our back yards with one family member standing guard through the night. This is pretty much the doomsday scenario and all we will really have to worry about is surviving ― if it is worth it?
The third, and more likely, scenario is somewhere in between. We don’t recover quickly and the world as we know it doesn’t end. And there isn’t just one scenario in this category, but many depending on how long we endure the dark times and what resources are available as we emerge. In this scenario we have to consider that there will be fundamental changes in the way we work, they way we educate our kids, how we deliver medical care, how we feed everyone, and how we make life worth living again.
I am not trying to be morose here but rather frame a planning exercise for the future. While planning for any business will unfold uniquely, it will share some common assumptions, goals and aspirations. For example, no business will emerge from scenario three without significant thought to their employees and their customers ― much more than most companies have given in the past. This thought will only partially be driven by altruism, because no business will succeed in the future without significantly considering both groups and their needs and wants.
You see, some very basic questions about the business need to be answered before any planning for, say, marketing can take place. What I am going to try to do here is lay out what some of those basic questions should be. Some of them will look elementary, but many businesses will be starting from scratch and asking the most basic question of all ― what business are we in?
But before we look at the questions, let’s revisit the scenarios outlined above and see what we can learn about each. In scenario 1, we suffer the temporary hardship of business being shut down, but we are able to slowly rebuild, and things eventually get back to normal. We are able to rehire most of our staff and our customers slowly return. Most of our vendors also recover and resume supplying us. In general, we have to weather the storm and deal with the relatively short term upset. We have done this before, and while each catastrophe is different, the strategies and tactics that have worked in similar situations are likely to serve us well in the current one. Unfortunately, it doesn’t look like we will be that lucky this time.
The second scenario is a big challenge, because it will look like scenario 1 for a long time before it finally dawns on us that things won’t improve, ever. This is tough, because it will be the last thing our minds will let us accept. So, we will try this and then that and then this again, all with little if any results. The danger here is that we think we see signs that things are improving that are misleading and things are actually getting worse. The trick here is to cut one’s losses as early as possible and disengage. But how do you know?
Scenario 3 currently looks like what we are in store for based on previous occurrences and available data. Recognizing that the unbelievably limited amount of testing hardly gives us enough data to work with, we can extrapolate what we have, and it isn’t pretty ― but not as dire as scenario 2. This scenario means the economy continues but our customers may want different things from us, or they want them delivered in different ways. For example, how many people will continue to pay $250/mo. for cable when there are no sports being broadcast?
The following list is anything but complete but is an illustration of the kind of exercise that virtually every management team will be considering soon. It will take various shapes with some aspects of the endeavor taking on more significance as conditions change. Consider this as just a starting point.
- What abilities do you and your employees have?
- How have you applied these abilities in the past?
- Historically how would you describe your business?
- If that option is diminished or no longer available, how can you redirect your efforts?
- How do your capabilities and new business opportunities match up?
- What shape is your workforce in (health, finances, emotions)?
- What additional training will they need going forward?
- Do you have the necessary leadership to deal with the coming challenges?
- What additional resources do you need?
- What do your customers want from you (you may need to ask)?
- What do they need, but don’t know they need?
- What shape are your customers in (health, finances, emotions)?
- How will the community benefit from your company’s work going forward?
- How does the community see your business and what can you do to improve that perception?
The future will be challenging and will likely surprise us. We may endure repeated periods of lockdown and reopening. The marketplace may shift on us several times. Successful companies will have asked the questions above and discussed various future possibilities and prepared contingency plans. Those that fail to plan and only react, will be challenged much more and may fail. Even in uncertain times planning is crucial and often the key to being able to seize an opportunity and build that into a strong and successful company.
For more info see Strategic Planning 101 for useful tips and techniques…
PS: Avoid anyone who is certain they know how things are going to turn out.