I hesitate even to write the word “unprecedented.” But these times really are. We’ve been radically disrupted and shaken to our core. And the ride isn’t over yet.
Is it even possible to think about planning at a time like this, when our previous plans seem irrelevant and our ability to predict the future with any certainty seems non-existent? Not to mention the fact that we are busy, distracted and exhausted?
We could never have planned for this. Can we plan during it?
I think we have to, for several reasons:
- Strategy is about making choices. Even in times of disruptive change, leaders have choices to make.
- You will be and feel less reactive. Having a plan gets you on your front foot and ready for whatever comes, even if that future doesn’t match your initial expectations.
- Clear strategy gives you a competitive advantage. Done well, having a strategy sets you apart. As A.G. Lafley and Roger Martin write in Playing to Win, “Not only is strategy possible in times of tumultuous change, but it can be a competitive advantage and a source of significant value creation.” (4)
- Strong strategy attracts resources. People want to back organizations with vision and a plan for achieving it.
- The journey matters. The co-creation of strategy with your team is a learning process that builds understanding, cohesion and buy-in. That is no less true in times of turbulence than of greater stability.
- This will end, and things will re-stabilize. It’s likely your mission hasn’t changed. And when the shape of the new normal begins to emerge, you will already have some momentum toward progress markers that are meaningful to you.
- The issues are the same but amplified. It’s likely that the changes you are experiencing have accelerated in their pace or urgency but not in their kind. Strategy development now may help you to address issues that you needed to address all along, but with more acuity.
- Strategy will spur you into action. Developing a series of action steps against a timeline will help you overcome inertia or the paralysis of overwhelm. Even if those action steps prove to be “the wrong ones,” it is easier to pivot from a state of movement than when you are stationary. As noted in this old story brought to my attention recently by colleague Lynne Cazaly, “any map will do.”
- Your crystal ball has always been broken. Although it seems particularly difficult to predict the future with any accuracy right now, we never could.
So let’s continue to plan. Explicitly, deliberately and collaboratively.
But we do need to do it differently — at a faster pace and in shorter increments.