Gotta love The Economist.
"With even short-term horizons as obscure as the San Francisco skyline during a summer fog, companies are finding their standard budgeting and forecasting of little use. The usual trick of plugging figures from operating units into spreadsheets appeals to number-crunchers, but can often generate misleading targets, especially when conditions change fast." ("Managing in the Fog, February 26 2009, at http://www.economist.com/business/displaystory.cfm?story_id=13184837)Companies today are paralyzed. Most managers have never seen economic conditions like these. Short-term thinking prevails. From the same Economist Article:
"Faced with exceptionally volatile business conditions, senior executives are finding it harder than ever to gauge how their companies are likely to fare in the months ahead."The risk, of course, is not having a clear strategy for growth once the recession ends, or worse, failing to position now for future opportunities. That's why cogent strategy development is more important now than ever before. With forecasts deemed virtually meaningless, and the future harder and harder to envision, managers need a tool for flexible and realistic strategy development.
"What can companies do? A few forward-thinking firms can provide inspiration. Hugh Courtney, a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, thinks more companies should be using “scenario planning” alongside their financial models, which do not produce a large enough spread of possible outcomes to capture the flavour of today’s uncertainties. Sten Daugaard, the finance chief of Lego, a Danish toymaker, says his firm generated a number of different scenarios as part of its 2009 budget, the first time it had used such an approach. It has developed contingency plans for each scenario so that it can react swiftly whatever the coming months throw at it."Scenario-based strategic planning is one such tool. Unlike most planning approaches, scenario planning starts with the assumption that the future is unknowable. Strategies designed for one vision of the future are almost certainly destined to fail, and managers usually cannot change course fast enough when the future they envisioned fails to materialize.
Instead of forcing managers to plan for the future they want, scenario planning forces corporate leaders to consider multiple, plausible futures that taken together represent a full range of threats and opportunities an organization may face in the future. Currently, we are using scenario planning to help a client develop a strategy centered around environmental sustainability, and to help another client set strategy for a major project category.
Too much short-term thinking now will make companies unprepared for the recovery. A little time spent thinking strategically now will pay dividends in the future -- whatever the future looks like.