Be realistic about scenario planning
In a highly uncertain environment, the advantages of scenario planning are clear: since no one base case can be regarded as probable, it’s necessary to develop plans on the assumption that several different futures are possible and to focus attention on the underlying drivers of uncertainty. Senior executives outside the strategic-planning group—even those accustomed to developing scenarios—may find the diversity and complexity of this year’s scenarios bewildering. It’s critical to bring such executives into the process early: for example, by kicking off the planning process with a scenario-development exercise involving the full senior team. Similarly, as the process of reviewing business units gets under way, a company can inculcate an appreciation of the threats it faces and of its collective strategic response by inviting executives from a number of divisions to participate in the proceedings—rather than hold one-off events between the senior team and the leader of each individual unit.
The company’s strategy, in short, must account for many more contingencies than it has until recently. Since the effectiveness of such a strategy depends on an organization’s ability to adjust rapidly as the fog starts to lift, managers must identify and intensively monitor key indicators suggesting which scenario might unfold.
Look beyond the crisis
Given the vastness of the economic change now under way, the temptation for many planners will be to gaze, mesmerized, at the unfolding crisis. That’s a mistake, for at least two reasons.
First, devastating as the current downturn may be, it cannot roll back fundamental market trends—such as the aging of consumers in Europe and North America or the continued economic development of Brazil, China, India, and Russia—which will continue to create strategic opportunities and threats. Managers must focus their eyes—and resources—on these trends no matter what happens.
Second, planners who become fixated on current economic events run the risk of overlooking a core responsibility: evaluating the effectiveness of current strategies. Although the crisis may force companies to suspend or redirect some of them, others will remain relevant even in the changed environment.