Scenario Planning for Sanity in the Middle of Chaos

The first six months of this year have sure been different than almost anyone would have expected.

Many people are settling down and can see a path forward, although there’s incredible uncertainty in terms of what the next six months will look like:

  • Is there going to be another round of this virus?
  • What’s going to happen to the economy?
  • How are we going to interact with humans in the workplace or in public?
  • How you plan effectively when in the middle of chaos?

The reality is that there’s always potential for a degree of chaos around the corner – it just feels very different when you’re right in the middle of it.

So how do we thrive in times of uncertainty, and how do we plan?  We need to be better prepared and to plan better. Here’s one of my favourite quotes:

“Victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win” – Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Because there are many different scenarios that can play out, having done your best planning helps you anticipate many of them – and the ones most relevant to you. But no matter what, you need to remain agile and able to adapt quickly to different circumstances.

The ABC’s of Planning

When people talk about Plan B, they usually mean a back-up plan for when things don’t go well. But I believe you need to have a plan for when things go well so that you are ready to move on opportunities. You need Plan A, B and C, so as you reflect on your plan for the next quarter, and set goals that are the most important, think about all three versions:

  • A – Accelerated – When things go in your favour
  • B – Baseline – Your best guess of what’s going to happen
  • C – Cautious – When things don’t go as well.

There’ll be triggers – for example, needing to hire more people or decreasing staff, buying or reducing inventory, payments to creditors or issues with your next acquisition.

And always know your direction and aspirations, the vision that drives you: your purpose and BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal, à la Jim Collins) that give you calibration and point your mind in the right direction.

So, you have a strategic plan that fills the gaps in between, and right down to what you are going to do on a quarterly basis. You just need the ability to scale your plans up or down based on what actually happens over the next six months in order to manage your businesses properly.

It’s about operating with more options built into your plans.

That said, staying nimble with your plans is more important. Working with many great entrepreneurs, I’ve noticed that many of them like to let the system run loose – meaning that they have a plan, but they always have a couple of doors open, in different directions, so that they can make changes very quickly.

They and their teams are very committed to the plans they have on annual, quarterly and sometimes monthly basis; but if there’s a willingness to change direction or decisions, they are prepared and willing to make those calls.

One of the companies that we work with has been very, very fortunate so find some tremendous opportunities in the middle of this COVID chaos. Because of how their business is booming, they are able to hire more people, but they’ve taken a different approach. Normally, when they hire people, they expect them to work for three, five or 10 years. Now, they’re hiring people with the expectation that it could be three months – or three, five or 10 years. Meaning that they are gearing up to be much more flexible, based on what changes in the marketplace.

This is also why many people move to outsourcing, temporary employees or other flexible models, which allow them to adapt quickly.

Another client needed to lay off people and now, as their business is coming back and getting better, their short-term plan is to not hire people back, yet; but to find additional productivity and efficiency. They are offering more work to their existing team – either paying them overtime or giving them additional time off in their slow season. And their team is much more creative, naturally putting more energy into things that matter most, letting projects slip in the nice-to-do category or busy work. If the market changes or their business slips, they don’t have to lay off, again, because they know it’s hard on their culture.

The Challenge

  • Set aside an hour or two to do your Quarterly Review and Plan, take a look at your Master Plan.
  • Remind yourself what’s most important and then go reset your goals for the quarter, applying the ABCs as needed.