In these changing and uncertain times, many firm leaders are asking themselves “where do we go from here?” In my strategic planning work, I too have had ample opportunity to think deeply about this with my clients. In pursuit of meaningful answers, I’d like to pose several more focused questions:

What’s changed in the world?

The great recession has wrought economic havoc at every level: global, national, local…and even personal. As both a cause and a reaction, the federal government’s ability to print money has created some opportunities, but at the same time produced new problems including deeper deficit spending, increased future debt, and now a proposed extended freeze on “discretionary” spending, all of which will contribute to an uncertain and uneven economic recovery for the economy, and especially for our industry. Exacerbating the situation, tight credit markets and the potential for a commercial and retail real estate crisis will have a continuing impact on our clients’—both public and private—ability to finance and implement their projects.

All of these factors contribute to many firms—perhaps even yours—operating in “survival mode” today, with no strong determination of future direction. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

What’s changed in your world?

An easier question might be “what hasn’t changed?” With fewer projects in the marketplace, the competition to win clients’ scarce work has intensified dramatically. Many clients are struggling with diminished—or no—funding for their projects so they need our firms to help them leverage what resources they have—limited dollars, obsolete facilities and aging infrastructure—all amidst their own changing needs and shifting priorities. Internally, your staff composition has also changed: likely you’ve had to lose some good people and now the pressure is on to retain your core capabilities and develop your people so that they emerge stronger than ever. Technology also continues to change rapidly, exerting a increasing influence on project delivery systems. And finally, the need to attend to leadership development and leadership succession continues unabated as the clock keeps ticking.

What are you going to do about it?

During changing times, firms must adapt to change or risk being left behind. As Charles Darwin’s iconic quote notes, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one that is the most responsive to change.”

When your surroundings are the most unfamiliar—when your partners, colleagues, and you are the most disoriented and uncertain—is exactly when you as a leader, and your firm, most need a roadmap. As a strategic planning consultant, I also know that a firm has to plan strategically for the long term or it will remain in survival mode much longer than it has to be, and much longer than it would like to be.