The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a wide range of strategic planning activities. As the focus turns largely to recovery and renewal, functional leaders are increasingly pulled into enterprise conversations about likely outcomes when the way forward is neither clear nor certain. They also have to plan for a range of potential outcomes for their own functions.
Scenarios are compelling descriptions of possible futures — not necessarily the most probable ones, but plausible, coherent and substantially different ones.
Business models are evolving frequently, particularly as executives consider which pandemic-related trends will become permanent. This requires a prompt shift in the strategy that defines how the enterprise will play and win — and requires all functional leaders to be prepared to support a new strategy.
Those who understand how disruption affects enterprise strategic and operational decisions can make small but powerful changes to prepare their own teams to act on the risk and opportunities that come from volatility.
Scenarios don’t forecast the future; they explore what’s possible
Many functional leaders already serve as strategic advisors to corporate-level scenario planning exercises, but far fewer have experience in scenario planning for their own function. Even those who work regularly with their CFOs on financial scenario planning — tied more directly to the operating plan — may need to expand their capabilities to apply the discipline of scenario planning to identify and develop their own strategic assumptions.
Scenarios are compelling descriptions of possible futures, not necessarily the most probable ones, but plausible, coherent, and substantially different ones.
As such, scenarios aren’t intended to forecast the future. They are neither predictions nor contingency plans. And they aren’t the same as strategic options, which are things within an organization’s control. Scenarios are external, outside of the organization’s control.
Know the objectives for your function
Ultimately, the objectives of scenario planning for the function are the same as at the corporate level:
Scenario planning can often come across as a “blue-sky exercise,” so make the exercise pragmatic.
You can’t, however, simply apply the outputs of enterprisewide planning to finance, assurance, or other functions — primarily because the high altitude of organizations’ plans fails to consider the implications for functions’ strategies, risk exposure, demand, and supplies.
For example, at the corporate level, responding to a market turn might translate into efforts to attract new customers. But for a function, it might mean renegotiating with suppliers or increasing support for ad hoc workload surges.
Diagnose the implications of scenarios for your function
For each scenario cascaded down from the enterprise level, functional leaders need to diagnose and articulate the implications on two fronts:
Once the implications, risks, and opportunities are clear, adjust the function’s strategy, goals, and projects or initiatives for a given scenario. Translate these into action plans by deciding which levers (e.g., people, processes, systems, budget) you should pull to meet business needs, manage risks, and capitalize on opportunities.
Action plans should match the severity of the implications and tie back to the function’s core strategy.
Bring scenario planning down to earth
Scenario planning can often come across as a “blue-sky exercise,” so make the exercise pragmatic by:
The outcome is a playbook of scenario-independent strategic actions (i.e., surefire moves) and a set of actions that are contingent on each scenario’s emergence (i.e., scenario-specific moves). This approach can make strategy execution more resilient because it allows functional leaders — in the event of scenario changes — to simply substitute the original actions with scenario-specific actions without the need for a full-blown strategy review.
Prepare to capture opportunities
As teams craft risk response strategies, they should also spend time identifying opportunities to revamp strategy, budget, and talent plans.
For example, as functions considered the threats of Brexit-related scenarios, they likely identified risks such as visa changes for non-U.K. staff and supply issues from third-party service providers moving location. But opportunities also surfaced to create new business partnerships and bridge capability gaps by tapping into latent talent pools in areas of the EU.
Focusing on action items that will help the functional team get ahead of uncertainties is more motivational for functional teams than being left to react to negative effects — and is less stressful for those who must execute the action plan.
The original article by Caroline Angle, principal for advisory at Gartner, is here.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of CDOTrends. Image credit: iStockphoto/matt_benoit