Strategies For An Uncertain World
Posted on 18th April 2019 at 18:00
No matter what the outcome of Brexit, the reality is that businesses are facing an uncertain future.
Uncertain trading conditions and political turmoil make it extremely difficult for business leaders to predict where and how business can take place, what barriers there may be, and how the decisions of other businesses may impact their own.
How do you develop an effective business strategy in such an uncertain world?
Here is an insightful article on this critical question from guest blogger Jan Bowen-Nielsen, Managing Director of Quiver Management.
Uncertainty isn’t new, but it is timely to remind ourselves of how best to form strategies that are more relevant and appropriate in the current business climate.
In 1997, Courtney, Kirkland and Viguerie suggested a four-level uncertainty framework in a Harvard Business Review article which is as relevant today as it was then.
In it, they recommend the following approach to forming strategies when facing the highest level of uncertainty:
Catalogue what you know and don’t know
Develop some possible and probable scenarios to gain some strategic perspectives – understand circumstances, implications and the likelihood of each
Identify some indicators that can show which scenarios are becoming more or less likely as the future unfolds
Plan for the most likely outcomes and consider your contingencies if they don’t pan out
Identify particular high level risks and implement early warning systems
Identify trigger points for particular courses of action in line with the strategy or to stop and review whether the chosen course of action is still appropriate
Align your team around your wishes for how to deal with uncertainty i.e. the strategy you are planning
Strengthen the resilience of your team and ensure they are part of your intelligence gathering and early warning systems
I’d like to add to that a word of caution – don’t be complacent. What’s working today may not be appropriate tomorrow. Be aware of new threats and opportunities and be prepared to learn and adapt.
A strong company vision
In times of uncertainty, it’s crucial to set out a strong company vision and to share that vision with all employees so they understand how their efforts contribute to the bigger picture. For a vision to become a true guiding star for all staff, it needs to be engaging, current and able to affect people’s behaviour and daily decisions.
I expand more on this subject in my article on the 10 Characteristics of a Strong Company Vision, which you can read HERE.
A practical approach to uncertainty
At the charity Active Gloucestershire, where both Sue Bailey and I are Trustees, we, like most charities, face a level of uncertainty over how much funding is available to us; this is not a comfortable position to be in, but we are used to dealing with it. A larger, more challenging uncertainty is around our new way of operating and making an impact – it is so new, innovative and ground-breaking that we cannot be sure how and whether it will work.
Follow the vision
What we do know is that our core purpose (our vision) is as important as ever – ‘everyone in Gloucestershire active, every day’.
We also know that the traditional methods to improve physical activity amongst inactive population groups have had very little sustainable effect. Supporting school games, training sports coaches and funding new sport clubs mostly encourage already active children and adults to become more active, but have little impact on inactive people, in particular the elderly, poor or disabled. Strategies therefore needed to change.
We have set an ambitious aim of helping 30,000 inactive citizens in Gloucestershire to become active. To achieve this, we have fundamentally changed our approach. We are evolving from a delivery organisation to becoming agents of change, an influencing organisation with a whole-system approach. We are bringing council, health services, education, community leaders, planners, employers and other influencers together to create a social movement.
We call this initiative Gloucestershire Moves.
Here is a a great short Gloucestershire Moves video, which succinctly explains the concept...
What we don’t know is how this innovative ground-breaking social movement building approach will evolve; indeed we are likely to need very different solutions for different population groups, as the barriers and solutions are likely to vary substantially. This is so new, so cutting-edge, that there are very few examples around the world we can learn from. It is a transformational change for both the Active Gloucestershire team and the board of trustees.
So how does that affect our strategy? We are clear on our vision: Everyone in Gloucestershire active every day. And our aims are clear: 30.000 inactive people active.
Where the uncertainty lies is in the viability of our approach, how we achieve this. So, we deal with this uncertainty through experimenting, learning, measuring impact, and engaging with experts around the UK and indeed the world.
Jan is a qualified coach, consultant and keynote speaker. He also holds several non-executive director roles, including Chair of Active Gloucestershire.
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