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Survivor Syndrome: Planning for the Future in Crisis

By Fran Cherny

In recent months, we have been dealing with a lot of uncertainty and a fast-changing world. As my colleague, Thierry, and I discussed in the article Survivor Syndrome: Overcoming Organizational Trauma in Times of Crisis, even though people are still struggling with how to adjust to these changes, we need to find a way to reconnect with our future, vision, and possibilities. In addition, people are dealing with guilt about colleagues who have been laid off, and pressure to do additional work to keep the organization alive and hopefully, thriving. Planning for the future in crisis has never been so challenging, or so important.

Survivor Syndrome: Planning for the Future in Crisis: Two men planning for the future

 

Planning for the Future in Crisis

 

How can we create a future together when there is still so much uncertainty? Can we plan and create a vision if we don’t yet know how to adapt to the recent changes? How can we help our team members feel less anxious and find a way forward that adds value for everyone?

There is a way. It needs to address business planning, but also build trust within the team and inspire and energize team members. It requires learning a new skill and putting a new process in place that many leaders are not familiar with… yet. It all can be learned through practice.

We’ll call this process: “Back to the Future: the art of scenario planning 2.0”. You may remember the movie “Back to the Future 2,”  where Doc Brown taught us that the present and future as we know it could change in many different directions with new events we didn’t plan for. (If you haven’t seen the movie, you now have a plan for the weekend!) This has always happened to some degree, but the speed of change has never been as fast and disruptive as it is right now.

Many of you might be familiar with traditional scenario planning. The intention and process we need to apply in the current situation are very different. The issue now is not how many scenarios we can build based on assumptions and premises, but how fast we can read, listen, and integrate new information and adjust our plans quickly.

Doing this simple 3 part exercise with our teams will help.

 

1. Understand and align common assumptions

  • Check people’s assumptions to understand why they are doing what they are doing. Do you think people will act the same if one thinks the vaccine for Covid-19 will be ready in 6 months and the other in 18 months? What happens when half of your team thinks that people will not travel again and will be spending more time at home and the other half thinks things will go back to normal sooner or later?

Survivor Syndrome: Planning for the Future in Crisis: Women and men having a meeting to align on assumptions

  • All of these different opinions lead people to make decisions that affect how you run the business and their level of engagement and commitment.
  • Creating the conversation and allowing the team to discuss common assumptions will put them to work in the same direction.
  • The question to ask your team is: What do you think will happen in the world in the next 3 months that will affect our business?

 

2. Cascading common assumptions into execution teams:

  • Once we align the common assumptions, we need to analyze how this will impact the work of each team.
  • For example, if we believe that people won’t be able to travel for at least 6 more months, how that will affect consumption based on the industry I’m in?
  • Then, the next question to ask is: What does my team need to do differently, based on the assumptions agreed upon, and how this will affect our business? Each leader needs to identify 2 or 3 critical things that the team needs to start approaching differently.

 

3. Cascading our team needs to our leadership focus:

  • If the team needs to do some things differently, we need to think quickly about what we need to do to make it happen.
  • When we are in such fast-changing environments, the speed of change is a competitive advantage or a liability.
  • The key question is: What do I need to do differently in the next 2 weeks to support my team and make changes with speed and agility?
  • Remember, you are the main lever for your team to adapt quickly.

By doing this simple exercise with your team, you will provide direction, a sense of alignment, and also, something that contributes to the common strategy. You will move from uncertainty to action and help everyone feel like part of the solution.

 

Conclusion

Planning for the future in crisis is always a challenge, but connecting with your team using the process outlined above provides a roadmap of how it can be done. This is not meant to be a one-time exercise. While you are reading this article, many assumptions I have right now might be different from when I originally wrote this, even if it’s only a week later. The faster things are changing, the more often you should run this exercise. As a leader of an organization, I would run it at least every 6 weeks under the current circumstances. Find the frequency that works for you. As you do this, you will be strengthening the muscle of agility, adaptability, and innovation. What else you can ask for?

“In a time of drastic change, it is the learners who inherit the future. The learned usually find themselves equipped to live in a world that no longer exists.” – Eric Hoffer

 

To contact Axialent about facilitating this powerful exercise with your team, click here.

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