The only certain thing about the future is uncertainty, so how do we prepare and plan our business effectively in these uncertain times? In this week’s post I’ve explored scenario planning as a way to help you imagine and prepare for the worst and to make sure your business stays viable if times get tough.

Why worry about something that hasn’t happened yet?

Professor Ewan Gillon, writing for the Press and Journal, highlighted that as humans we’re programmed for certainty and we do our best to avoid uncertainty. We don’t like to think about the worst potential outcomes, and mindfulness experts tell us not to worry about events before they take place, but in a business environment, this is essential. There’s plenty we can do to prepare for uncertainty and by doing this, we are equipping ourselves to deal with every eventuality.

Business Planning ScenariosPrioritising and ranking risks

Looking at a year, three years, five years in one go will become overwhelming, so the best way to start with imagining scenarios is to look at what could happen today, this week or next month first. By starting off your thinking small, you will naturally evolve to potential bigger issues that may pose a risk in the future.

Bear in mind that some issues could occur at any time. What if the internet stopped this afternoon? What if your computer system was hacked or you suffered a major data breach? These are immediate and pressing and will have a bigger short-term impact on your business than the impending Brexit uncertainty.

Using a ranking scale or matrix is useful to prioritise and rank potential risks based on the likelihood of them occurring and the cost to your business.

Create your scenarios

Paul Schoemaker, writing for Inc, advises us to think about the most concerning uncertainties and turn these into stories to help us understand how our business would be affected and how we would react. This process is followed by the emergency services on a regular basis, who plan and act out scenarios based on things such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters. Thankfully most of us don’t need to think about the kind of emergencies that our local authorities would have to deal with, but we can learn from them and follow their methods and principles.

The scenario stories you develop can be full of detail, because the more fully you understand each scenario, the better prepared you will be to respond. List everything you know about the scenario, identify the things you don’t know and fill in the gaps to create a strong picture of what could happen.

Create a plan for every outcome

Once you have your range of scenarios, review your current strategy and determine whether it already accounts for any of the scenarios. Test your strategy and decide if you would change it if you knew for sure that one of your scenarios was going to happen.

If your scenarios are new to your teams, make sure they become part of regular conversations to elevate employee awareness of potential threat. Think about rehearsing your response to scenarios to test how effectively your business would respond. Make sure you have warning signals in place and key indicators to monitor so that all levels of staff can raise awareness of potential threats arising.

Group facilitation scenario planningIt could be the case that the scenarios you have developed present opportunities as well as risks, which you can also plan for. Your scenarios could throw up ideas for expansion, market development or new technology. Create a business resilience plan which sets out how you will respond to the scenarios. This is likely to include a range of different responses for a variety of scenarios, and could call for a series of plans to be developed, not just a single document.

Use coaching and group facilitation for scenario planning

Coaching and group facilitation can help you with scenario planning because this will probe areas you might not have considered. An expert fresh pair of eyes can help you and your employees to think in new ways and imagine new potential scenarios. If you need support to help you to unlock creativity in your business, you can talk to Catalyst about Coaching, or facilitation. Get in touch to find out more.