November 17, 2020

Strategic Planning in Uncertain Times

by Johanna Lyman in Blog Roll, Business Development

“Mann Tracht, Un Gott Lacht” is a Yiddish adage that translates to “Man plans, and God laughs.” Rarely has that adage ever been more relevant than it is right now. With so much uncertainty surrounding us, it might feel as if planning is a fool’s errand. Yet we still have to make an attempt to plan and strategize how best to fulfill our missions.

How we look at uncertainty, unexpected change or adversity matters.

There’s a story about two young boys who go to visit their grandfather. He brings them into the stable, gives them each a pitchfork, and tells them to muck out two stalls that are full of horse poop and old hay.

A few minutes later, he checks in to see how the boys are doing. One of them is slowly mucking the stall, grumbling under his breath. The other is zealously cleaning out the stall with a big grin on his face. Grandfather asks why he’s so happy and the young boy replies, “There must be a pony in here somewhere!”

That’s not to say that you should ignore all the chaos. Instead of focusing solely on what’s been lost or postponed, look for the silver linings. For example, we have learned that virtual environments don’t have to be poor substitutes for in-person meetings, trainings, and collaborations. There are many benefits to our newly virtual world. What are some of the silver linings 2020 has gifted you?

Jack Canfield, author of The Success Principles and the wildly popular Chicken Soup series, shared in a talk once that airplanes are off-course far more often than they are on-course during flight. If memory serves, he said they’re off-course nearly 90 percent of the time, yet they still manage to arrive at their destinations. It’s counter-intuitive, but it works.

Following the best practices of airplanes is a method I call, “Eyes on the Prize, Hands Off the Wheel.” This method encourages people to disengage from perfectionism and the obsessive need to be in control of things one can’t possibly control, and to make room for synchronicities, innovation, and surprising results.

Sometimes it can feel like magic happens. Start with a clear understanding of the destination, then allow for the path of least resistance and/or maximum opportunity to reveal itself along the way. It’s a method that is especially helpful during uncertain times.

We recommend that when doing strategic planning in uncertain times, you identify the desired outcome(s) and strategize multiple ways to reach your goals.

Here’s how it works:

Focus on Your Vision

Our clients are driven by Purpose. They know what kind of positive change they want to see in the world. They know what their role is in affecting that positive change.

Relative to your Vision, identify three “big rocks” that will help move you toward your vision. These “big rocks,” when achieved, will have a big impact on realizing your Vision. Examples of “big rocks” could include sales and marketing initiatives, streamlining or expanding operations, and capitalizing on a new sales channel.

Identify Your Path

Identify a GPS and possible alternative routes (aka different scenarios) for the organization to help determine whether and when to pivot if things are working out the way you planned.

For each of the “big rocks,” brainstorm as many ways you can think of to achieve it. Don’t try to figure this out alone. Engage your stakeholders—all of them. Some of the best ideas come from unexpected sources. This can be done in an agile way even if your team is still virtual, as many are.

Use both synchronous and asynchronous collaboration methods to ensure all voices are heard. You should aim for a minimum of three possible ways to meet each “big rock” as well as go/no-go metrics for each scenario. When you plan in advance for pivots, they’re easier to manage when they occur.

People Matter

When you take care of your teams, they’ll take care of business. One of the things we’ve learned this year is that now more than ever, people crave connection.

Have regular check-ins, both individually and as a team. This doesn’t have to be time consuming. A one-word check-in at the beginning of a meeting will give you the pulse of the team. Ensure that you have systems in place for all voices to be heard; it’s the best way to develop a sense of belonging. When people have a say in the plans, they feel a stronger sense of ownership and will be more likely to do whatever they can to ensure success.

Keep your ear to the ground

What do your clients/customers need? What are the problems they’re currently facing that you can help them solve?

At Kadabra, we have scheduled 2021 planning calls with a number of former and current clients. Our intention is simple: we want to understand what clients are focusing on and struggling with now. We want to understand their priorities for 2021 and beyond. We are thrilled when we can be thought partners and help someone come up with a solution to one of their problems. A call last week helped us understand a problem we hadn’t considered: what might be the impact on culture when teams return to working together, as some undoubtedly will? It’s an exciting problem to solve.

Stay Focused

Lastly, keep your focus on what you can control, not the 800,000 things outside your control. There’s a Liberating Structure called the 15% Solutions. The premise is that we can only control 15% of what happens to us daily. When we focus on that 15%, we are significantly more productive and happier.

Helen Keller said, “Security is mostly a superstition. It does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than outright exposure. Life is either a daring adventure, or nothing.”

The only constant is change; how you handle it is what matters. This is always true, it’s simply more noticeable these days. Consider this question: How can you best leverage the changes your organization has been through in order to best lead your team into the future?