If you thought the last two years were just a bit odd, with everything blowing hot and cold on a seemingly random basis, it really isn’t just you.
We may have come to expect that from climate-change induced weather, but political leaders in many places have been giving the weather a run for its money. That tends to leave decision makers in business and community enterprise hoping we are not headed to another GFC, and looking for anything that will give a hint about what the priorities should be in the coming year.
It may be a touch old-fashioned to say so, but this is a good time to stick to the knitting. There isn’t much point fretting about the state of the world if your organisation hasn’t yet given enough attention to the state of its own back yard.
And as we come around the circle to annual planning sessions, it is definitely worth remembering that spending time thinking about the state of the world is fine, but should be proportional to how much you can do about that – versus how much time can be better spent on getting the fundamentals right, so that your organisation is set as well as it can be no matter what an uncertain future holds.
In other words – think about what the organisation is there to do, to what extent you got the job done in recent years, and then what the big issues are within your control that you can can decide to work on.
Horizon scanning is a great input to your strategic thinking and planning, of course, but your board or executive team always needs a careful eye to seeing how much difference the changing environment will really make, and what adjustments are needed to plans – but the fact is you first need some plans that could then be adjusted.
A good case study is the United Nations Security Council. This is a decision making body familiar to our MD, Carolyn, from her research interests, but the more important thing here is that it is hard to imagine a decision maker more prone to having their elbow joggled by political leaders changing their minds whenever they change their socks – but the world is still expecting (and very much needing!) the Council to keep international peace and security in place.
The Council is famous for its propensity (at least in the post Cold War era since around 1990) for going to inordinate lengths to negotiate unanimous decisions but those decisions then still proving to be quite contentious in the wider world – and often not getting the job done anyhow. So, in the current climate of uncertainty, think about two things:
- Unanimity doesn’t get the job done all by itself – it is a means to other ends, but when it becomes the main aim in the process, something has gone missing from the picture. All boards and executive teams should be wary of the dangers of always doing too little, too late because your crew hesitated to move ahead when there was a modicum of dissension.
- Even the Council has had an odd time of it over the last two years, with less decisions, and less unanimous decisions, getting made than at pretty much any time for three decades. Crucially, this was despite there certainly being fertile ground for the Council to work on – what with the variety of developments, incidents, and running conflicts, that look like challenges to the international peace and security picture. So as you head into the planning cycle, do your homework to see what you did, but also take a good hard look to see what you didn’t do over the last year or so, and set the agenda accordingly.
The point really is not recriminations, or even commiserations about unsuccessful projects, but explanations and facts (the actual kind – you know, that can be verified and supported with data!) that can fuel organisational learning – and if you get that right, perhaps you could give the Security Council a tutorial!!