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Advice For Dealing With Uncertainty

This five-minute read may be the most important thing you do today. I say that humbly. Uncertainty is the new normal about everything. Think about it. The extent and scope of unexpected changes to the way things are done is global. Reacting and responding to this uncertainty is now the basis for company and personal survival. This is why I now say that “Impromptu strategy” is not an oxymoron. The concept of “pivoting” has morphed into something more fundamental. There are already a number of examples of companies thinking laterally to create ingenious new business survival strategies. I am going to share two examples to get you thinking. I am also sharing here a downloadable model for an entirely new method to analyze and develop your own “impromptu” strategic plan.

Re-purposing your business

We are seeing some restaurants dramatically rethinking how they can be relevant, create revenue, and survive. Beyond simply offering take-out service, examples include restaurants converting at least a portion of their business into grocery stores. In many cases they are selling unique items that are not commonly available in supermarkets, and enable customers to prepare more interesting meals. The other trend is even more radical: turning restaurant parking lots into drive-in movie theaters. With restaurants needing to reduce the number of tables for social distancing this might be an imaginative way to replace those restaurant tables, serving food in the parking lot. This would not work in dense urban locations, but the idea of bringing back drive-in theaters generally has also taken off. Any large parking lot will do, enabling restaurants and food trucks to survive serving to the cars. Again, this is just an example of lateral thinking as it could apply to any industry or market.

Exploiting your business beyond its current model

Some companies are finding that their original idea can be taken much further in the pandemic new normal. Top Hat is a Canadian company that offers smartphone integration into live classrooms. When I taught at a university. I was frustrated by all of the smartphone fiddling in the classroom. I tried using Top Hat and was impressed. Top Hat invented a way to co-opt students’ smartphones into the classroom. In the “new normal” of e-learning Top Hat has expanded to offer integrated course texts and materials on smartphones, and remote proctored exams, together with offering the basic product for free to students. This is way beyond the current e-learning classroom environments. How could your business model be expanded?

There are many more examples and you may already know some of them. They may not be directly relevant to your situation, but can serve as higher level examples of how businesses are dramatically rethinking how to survive.

Preparing Your Business For a Post-Pandemic World

Five Strategic Planning Questions Worksheet (download)

Download link:

(From the Harvard Business Review)

How to use the 5 P’s Worksheet:

Along with the severe health and humanitarian crisis caused by the coronavirus pandemic, executives around the world face enormous business challenges: the collapse of customer demand, significant regulatory modifications, supply chain interruptions, unemployment, economic recession, and increased uncertainty. And like the health and humanitarian sides of the crisis, the business side needs ways to recover. Ad hoc responses won’t work; organizations must lay the groundwork for their recoveries now.

The management theorist Henry Mintzberg famously defined strategy as 5 Ps: plan, ploy, pattern, position, and perspective. We have adapted his framework to propose our own 5 Ps: position, plan, perspective, projects, and preparedness. The following questions can guide you as you work to bounce back from the crisis.

1. What position can you attain during and after the pandemic?

To make smart strategic decisions, you must understand your organization’s position in your environment. Who are you in your market, what role do you play in your ecosystem, and who are your main competitors? You must also understand where you are headed. Can you shut down your operations and reopen unchanged after the pandemic? Can you regain lost ground? Will you be bankrupt, or can you emerge as a market leader fueled by developments during the lockdown?

We hear of many firms that are questioning their viability post-pandemic, including those in the travel, hospitality, and events industries. We also hear of firms accelerating their growth because their value propositions are in high demand; think of home office equipment, internet-enabled communication and collaboration tools, and home delivery services. Because of such factors, firms will differ in their resilience. You should take steps now to map your probable position when the pandemic eases.

2. What is your plan for bouncing back?

plan is a course of action pointing the way to the position you hope to attain. It should explicate what you need to do today to achieve your objectives tomorrow. In the current context, the question is what you must do to get through the crisis and go back to business when it ends.

The lack of a plan only exacerbates disorientation in an already confusing situation. When drawing up the steps you intend to take, think broadly and deeply, and take a long view.

3. How will your culture and identity change?

Perspective means the way an organization sees the world and itself. In all likelihood, your culture and identity will change as a result of the pandemic. A crisis can bring people together and facilitate a collective spirit of endurance — but it can also push people apart, with individuals distrusting one another and predominantly looking after themselves. It’s crucial to consider how your perspective might evolve. How prepared was your organization culturally to deal with the crisis? Will the ongoing situation bring your employees together or drive them apart? Will they see the organization differently when this is over? Your answers will inform what you can achieve when the pandemic ends.

4. What new projects do you need to launch, run, and coordinate?

Your answers to the questions above should point you to a set of projects for tackling your coronavirus-related problems. The challenge is to prioritize and coordinate initiatives that will future-proof the organization. Beware of starting numerous projects that all depend on the same critical resources, which might be specific individuals, such as top managers, or specific departments, such as IT. With too many new initiatives, you could end up with a war over resources that delays or derails your strategic response.

5. How prepared are you to execute your plans and projects?

Finally, you need to assess your organization’s preparedness. Are you ready and able to accomplish the projects you’ve outlined, particularly if much of your organization has shifted to remote work? We see big differences in preparedness at the individual, team, organization, and national levels. The resources at hand, along with the speed and quality of decision-making processes, vary greatly, and the differences will determine who achieves and who falls short of success.

We have created a worksheet around the five strategic questions. It can help you plot your current and future moves. Be aware that consumers will remember how you reacted during the crisis. Raising prices during a shortage, for example, could have a significant effect on your customer relationships going forward.

The coronavirus has had unprecedented impacts on the world — and the worst is yet to come. Companies must act today if they are to bounce back in the future. Doing so will help the world as a whole recover — and, we hope, become more resilient in the process.

Post Author: David Mayes

Founder, Mayo615 Technology Partners Ltd., UBC adjunct faculty, Intel alumnus, technology assessment, international business, cleantech, fly fisherman, native Californian and citizen of France, who has been very fortunate to have traveled, lived and worked all over the globe. My wonderful wife, Isabelle has reintroduced me to my French Provençal heritage.

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