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Scenario Planning for Pandemic Outcomes

“Significant uncertainty surrounds what the ‘new normal’ could look like for firms beyond the COVID-19 crisis. But scenario thinking can help organizations better anticipate and adapt to dramatic changes, increase agility and resilience, and turn uncertainty into advantage,” according to this Knowledge@Whatron article.

Scenario planning is a powerful tool for developing strategy, especially given the complex web of unknowns in which we find ourselves. It leverages the cognitive, creative power of narrative to imagine and respond to possible futures. The thought experiment yields critical analysis, important insights, and the ability to innovate and prepare for a variety of eventualities.

For scenario planning to be as useful as possible, entire teams should be engaged and invested. If delegated to a small group as a fringe project, the resultant lessons will have diminished impact, cautions this piece by business consultancy McKinsey. The exercise works best when the narratives around each scenario are all deeply developed. The more information and connections a scenario involves, the more instructive its consideration will be.

Scenarios should represent a spectrum of good and bad situations. You can think of them as laying over a graph in which the x and y axes represent best and worst case predictions for key factors. For example, take economic recovery (weak to strong) and social/consumer behavior (scared to confident). Scenarios in that case might occupy quadrants such as “struggling economy and consumers are staying home,” “economy is picking up but consumers are avoiding public spaces,” “economy is still low but people are eager for new consumer experiences,” and “businesses are bouncing back and consumers are venturing out again.” Planning deeply for each scenario allows you to create a playbook and to better recognize patterns on the horizon. This Forbes piece outlines a step-by-step guide for applying scenario planning to your business.

One of the most useful and most challenging aspects of scenario planning is thinking beyond your own expectations in order to plan more comprehensively. McKinsey shares this advice (summed up concisely in this infographic) for navigating the perils of bias.

 

 

The Year to Come?

Heading into 2020, it feels like a good time to share this infographic tweeted by MIT’s Sloan Management Review and created by futurist Amy Webb. Is your business poised to seize the [next] day? This graphic provides an actionable step-by-step guide to forecasting changes in the social, cultural, and economic landscapes that impact your business and preparing to take advantage of them. Obviously no predictive system is perfect, but it can be a helpful exercise to alternate your approach from time to time. Even if you’re not in big tech, it can’t hurt to consider your business’ and clients’ potentially shifting needs with a fresh perspective. Happy New Year and best wishes for a prosperous 2020!

Encouraging Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is a hot topic in workplace research. According to a recent Gallup survey,

“The percentage of ‘engaged’ workers in the U.S. — those who are involved in, enthusiastic about, and committed to their work and workplace — is now 34%, tying its highest level since Gallup began reporting the national figure in 2000. The percentage who are ‘actively disengaged’ — workers who have miserable work experiences — is now at its lowest level (13%), making the current ratio of engaged to actively disengaged employees 2.6-to-1 — the highest ever in Gallup tracking. The remaining 53% of workers are in the ‘not engaged’ category. They may be generally satisfied but are not cognitively and emotionally connected to their work and workplace; they will usually show up to work and do the minimum required but will quickly leave their company for a slightly better offer.”

While the engagement increase is good news, it’s still quite likely that something like two thirds of your team is not at peak potential.

Does it matter?

Emphatically yes, according to Kevin Kruse, author of Employee Engagement 2.0. In this Forbes article, he presents arguments from 28 studies detailing the positive impacts of employee engagement. Employee engagement correlates positively to improvements in service, sales, quality, safety, retention, and profit and share holder return.

For instance,

A study of 64 organizations revealed that organizations with highly engaged employees achieve twice the annual net income of organizations whose employees lag behind on engagement. (Source: The Impact of Employee Engagement. Kenexa)

Gallup’s research finds that 70% of the variance between engaged and disengaged teams comes down to management and/or leadership. This has some big ramifications if you are a business owner. It’s probably worth your while to seriously consider the culture of your business and how to facilitate a sense of commitment and motivation in your team.

How to go about this?

Purpose emerges in the research as a crucial factor. Employees report far higher levels of engagement when they understand the mission of the company and feel their work advances the cause in a significant way. They also need to feel a pathway exists for them to learn, develop new skills, and advance personal goals. According to Deloitte,

We need to make sure jobs are meaningful, people have the tools and autonomy to succeed, and that we select the right people for the right job. This is anything but a simple undertaking…We each thrive on our ability to contribute to a greater good, and management’s job is to set goals, support people, coach for high performance, and provide feedback to continuously improve.

Training, trust (and the other side of its coin, accountability), team, and work-life balance all contribute to a sense of fulfillment as well.

Leadership strategy expert Brent Gleeson outlines these check point questions that your team should be able to answer positively:

  • I know what is expected of me and my work quality.
  • I have the resources and training to thrive in my role.
  • I have the opportunity to do what I do best – every day.
  • I frequently receive recognition, praise and constructive criticism.
  • I trust my manager and believe they have my best interests in mind.
  • My voice is heard and valued.
  • I clearly understand the mission and purpose and how I contribute to each.
  • I have opportunities to learn and grow both personally and professionally.

Onward and Upward

While valuable, facilitating change in your work culture is not a simple undertaking. Gleeson warns that leaders should be prepared for challenges in trying to cultivate work culture. “Change is hard, takes longer and usually has higher hard and soft costs than managers and leaders generally plan for. Change can be intensely personal for employees, causes fear and can actually reduce productivity when approached improperly,” he says.

But don’t be daunted, especially if you are planning to sell your business at some point. A well-developed team who will support the mission even when ownership conveys is a major selling point.

 

 

Motivational Failure

Some clichés endure for good reasons. Cat posters exhorting us to “hang” in there adorably/annoyingly acknowledge a universal truth: you’re going to mess up.

Own it. Learn from it. Use it to grow and teach others.

A recent First Round article highlights the importance of stories. What is a compelling example of a time you failed, persevered, and prevailed? As a leader, how can you share that experience with your team in a way that encourages courage?

Communicating vulnerability can make you more relatable and can instill your team with the confidence to take risks. Don Faul, CEO of Athos and former Pinterest Head of Operations, suggests crafting language around failure and inspiration carefully in advance. It’s important, he says, to make sure the story leaves the listener with a sense of potential. Faul also recommends experimenting on one or two trusted colleagues and tweaking your story based on their response. “It gives you a chance to strike your own balance between vulnerability and confidence,” he says.

This is an important point. Keep in mind the value in these stories is to help build confidence from a feeling of empathy, not to wallow in doubt! In another article, Senior Gametime Strategist and Fast Company writer Jackie Berkery suggests “vulnerability in moderation.”

The benefits of vulnerability get sidelined when your team hears you doubt your own management skills. Most of the time, your team needs someone who can inspire confidence, display composure and consistency, and lead by example. While there’s still ample room for showing empathy, owning your mistakes, and developing an approachable, open management style, expressing doubt in your abilities as a manager is not an effective strategy.

If “motivational failure” seems like an oxymoron, the NY Times recently published a piece with helpful examples. Researchers from Northwestern University compared two cohorts of young scientists. The groups were statistically identical except that one  had narrowly succeeded in a attaining a National Institutes of Health grant whereas the other had narrowly failed. Ten years later, the initially less successful group had gone on to more impactful careers. After controlling for various factors, the research team concluded that the higher performing group’s later success was causally connected to its initial setbacks.

The same article also suggests keeping a “failure résumé.” Despite seeming a bit daunting, such a record can be a powerful tool to track your lessons and progress. It can also,  somewhat ironically, help to build confidence. Dr. Melanie Stephan, a lecturer at Edinburgh Medical School and the first to popularize the failure résumé says, “Sometimes I look back on them and see how much I’ve actually struggled to be where I am. That’s a powerful reminder that I deserve to be here.”

4 Tips to Build Managerial Confidence

A lot of people know the symptoms: feeling overwhelmed, unworthy, overly lucky, terror at being “found out.” If you’ve wrestled with Impostor Syndrome, you know the struggle is real—even when your lack of qualifications isn’t!

Impostor Syndrome is a pervasive sense of self-doubt, a belief that one’s successes have not been earned. While this insecurity can strike at any level of professional experience, research indicates that it is more common when starting a new endeavor, such as managing a new business.

In a recent article on Fast Company, writer and senior strategist Jackie Berkery shares four tips tailored for new managers dealing with confidence issues.

Claim Your Success

“Take time to contemplate what’s been accomplished and the role you played,” Berkery suggests. Acknowledge what your team did well, but also what you, as their manager, did to facilitate and foster that success. “When you don’t have a concrete sense of how your individual behaviors generate certain outcomes,” she points out, “you can’t learn from either your failures or your successes—and, for the record, the latter is just as important as the former.”

Vulnerability in Moderation

“The benefits of vulnerability get sidelined when your team hears you doubt your own management skills,” says Berkery. “Most of the time, your team needs someone who can inspire confidence, display composure and consistency, and lead by example. While there’s still ample room for showing empathy, owning your mistakes, and developing an approachable, open management style, expressing doubt in your abilities as a manager is not an effective strategy.”

Get Specific Positive Feedback

Receiving and responding to constructive criticism is an important part of growth. Positive feedback is an important part of the learning process too! “Ask for two to three specific things you’ve done that have been helpful or had a positive impact,” Berkery suggests.

Embrace a Growth Mindset

It’s OK that you don’t know it all yet! “There will be a learning curve and skills you need to develop over time. It’s only natural you’ll second-guess yourself along the way,” says Berkery. “Recognizing your imperfections while putting in the work to improve isn’t the same as the paralyzing downward spiral of self-doubt triggered by Impostor Syndrome. If you don’t feel confident in your abilities right now, be confident in your ability to learn and grow and just plain work hard instead. Confidence as a manager and leader will come.”

In another article, we discuss the value of a training and transition phase as well. When you buy a business, this phase is a great learning opportunity. The seller, as well as veteran employees, will often help you settle in. Take this chance to learn as much as you can. You got this!