Maurice Adams

Jan 11, 2022, 10:00 AM

Will our organisation survive a(nother) crisis?

“The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. The occasion is piled high with difficulty, and we must rise with the occasion. As our case is new so we must think anew and act anew.” - Abraham Lincoln, 1862

During the early stages of Covid disruption, there was a sense of “it will be good when we get back to normal”. This subtly changed to “we had better get used to the ‘new normal’”. Now it seems that even ‘normal’ is questionable.

Organisations face uncertainties even during ‘normal’ times. These challenges are usually handled by the established structures and systems we have put in place. But when uncertainty escalates to a crisis, the usual way of coping can become overstressed. This pandemic is the current crisis. It is inevitable that we will need to contend with others.

How should CEOs and governing bodies plan in this changeable environment in which we operate?

Planning for the unpredictable

Two exercises should be considered: strategic forecasting and organisation stress testing. Both refer to an organisation’s adaptability, resilience and capacity. This is where external consultants can usefully add value.

Most of us have been involved with strategic planning but may not have given attention to strategic forecasting. This is not an exercise in foretelling the future, but it does offer a helpful guide as to what needs to be considered and how we might be prepared.

We have depended on well crafted strategic plans and methodically prepared annual operating plans, but these can be too rigid a structure for when a timely response is required in a time of crisis. When leaders consider ‘strategic planning’ they should construct and connect the elements that will guide their organisation when the (predictably) unpredictable events occur. Those who do not will struggle to evolve and survive.

Testing the plan

Adaptable and resilient organisations need to have an operating model that promotes continuous learning and cultivates flexible responses as situations evolve. This will include leadership flexibility, collective capability and response rapidity that impacts the entire organisation.

An organisation stress test (different to a risk management review) addresses these factors and questions how prepared the organisation is by envisaging how quickly and successfully it could recover from disruptions and shock by considering such information as early warning system data collection and analysis, team structure, crisis response mechanisms and communication channels.

Annual operating plans are important and help to prioritise activities. Arguably it is an easier process to define how things will be done as opposed to identifying the unknown: what is known can be measured and can be managed. If you are confident that you will achieve your goals, then your strategy is probably safe and organisation control (and CEO success!) is more likely. But as we have learned, life isn’t always going to be like that. There is no ‘normal’.

Ditching the dogmas of the quiet past

This pandemic has taught us many things and recalibrated what is important for us as society. It is an opportunity for the charity sector to consider its role and how it will try to navigate the unpredictable future. NGOs provide an inestimable service, especially when society needs support in difficult times. As Abraham Lincoln foretold some 160 years ago, we need to be sure that our organisations and establishments are sustainable for the good of all.

If you would like to know more about strategic forecasting and organisation stress testing, please call 01737 814758 or email office@actionplanning.co.uk.

Andrew Johnson

Maurice Adams is a not-for-profit leadership advisor who has been a CEO, Vice President and Programmes Director for a broad range of UK and global agencies, with more than 30 years of experience in different sectors, roles and countries. Maurice has successfully directed and supported multi-national and multi-functioning teams by innovative thinking, skilled communications and leadership support.