Planning for the Next Normal
Let’s start with some good news: 2020 is a little more than half over and you (and presumably your business) are here to read this letter!
We all understand that the ramifications of COVID-19 have been profound, having significantly affected:
- Our markets. While a few client-type markets are thriving, more than a few are facing their own uncertain futures. What market intelligence does your firm have, and how is that affecting your target markets going forward?
- Our clients. Because they live in these markets—some of which are thriving, others not so much—their businesses are wholly dependent on them. What is keeping them up at night, and do they rely on you for advice?
- Our services. Some traditional services that clients once valued are now deemed deferrable or even expendable. Yet some ingenious firms have pivoted to create new services that directly address clients’ current concerns. How has your firm tailored a newly relevant suite of services?
- Our firm operations. Nearly every firm (even those previously resistant to employees working from home) reports pleasant surprise at their firms’ resilience that the sudden and unexpected shift to a fully remote workforce did not drastically affect productivity or profitability. But, to what extent is this sustainable?
The Next Normal
What does the “next normal” look like? And with so many unknowns, how are firms considering their own futures?
- Some firms remain intently focused on day-to-day issues such as maintaining cash flow, making payroll with their PPP loans, and gradually returning to work.
- More firms are looking ahead through the end of the year and into 2021, anticipating and managing backlog.
- A growing number of firms are able to see opportunities in the midst of a crisis, a unique moment in time to become true trusted advisors as their clients struggle with their own unknowns and challenges. Examples abound:
- An architecture firm conducts charrettes with developer clients to help make the clients’ buildings more marketable and responsive to their customers.
- An engineering firm works with state and municipal clients to optimize their capital budgets in the face of reduced tax revenues.
- A consulting firm offers specialized advice to building owners on redesigning public spaces around social distancing guidelines.
- Having adjusted to the current reality of a remotely distributed workforce, firms are developing, documenting, and accelerating best practices around collaboration, flexibility, inclusion, and accountability.
Planning Around Scenarios
No one can know what the future holds, and today’s uncertainties—individually and in the aggregate—are unprecedented: concern about our own health that affects our daily lives; the economy and the nature of a recovery; how our business and our clients’ businesses are faring; and, of course, the implications of the upcoming presidential election. These ambiguities and constant changes are understandably creating stress for organizations—yours and your clients’—as well as for your own staff.
Yet, these days more than ever, firms need a roadmap to envision their future and guide decision making. Treading water will not get you closer to shore, and relying only on short-term decisions will not set a course for a desired destination.
One proven and productive method of addressing a future rife with unknowns is to consider several plausible crisis scenarios, developing strategies around each one, then scanning the horizon to determine which scenario is most likely to come to fruition. Firms should ask themselves:
- What trends is the crisis likely to accelerate, or slow?
- What is likely to change permanently?
- What opportunities can be capitalized upon?
- What can we do now in order to take advantage of today’s unique possibilities and prospects?
- And considering this unprecedented rapidity of change, to what extent do we have to reinvent our firm for a new level of agility incorporating speedy decision making and purposeful implementation?
As you consider these questions, be sure to keep an open mind, develop a deep understanding of clients’ current issues and priorities, and tap into the creative thinking of your staff.
Lifting your head high enough to plan for the future in these challenging times isn’t easy. If you have thoughts about this, I’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.