Uncertainty is one thing you can count on
Monday, August 17, 2020
One of the oft-repeated truisms in business circles is that the only constant is change. It’s not hard to see why. The rapid acceleration in technological innovation, communications, global commerce, and mass customization have forced businesses to be constantly on the watch for the next big or new thing and retool quickly to embrace it.
Now, add to that not knowing when or whether you can operate your business or to what extent or with which staff. We’ve shifted from the age of constant change to the age of constant uncertainty.
The unpredictable and erratic progress of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the equally unpredictable and erratic policy responses to its impact on society and the economy, have sent businesses into a tizzy. From day to day and week to week, businesses are having to pivot at a moment’s notice in order to comply with confusing and conflicting guidelines and regulations.
Open. Close. Send employees back to work. Urge employees to work from home. Re-open but only partially. Wear masks. But don’t mandate that employees and customers must wear masks. Social distance, stagger shifts, but get back up to speed as soon as possible.
And then there is the impact that all this chaos is having on doing business. Supply chains and deliveries are disrupted. Capital may or may not be available, but who knows when or how much. Customers are scurrying about, looking for whichever provider they can find that meets their immediate need, unraveling carefully cultivated loyalties. Who knows if those customers will come back when things finally settle down.
If you follow the stock market at all, you know that if there’s one thing business leaders and investors fear most it’s uncertainty. It makes it difficult to plan and to forecast revenues and profits. But what if uncertainty is the new normal?
Just as businesses have had to factor constant change into their planning, so now, too, they will have to include uncertainty. It sounds paradoxical, planning for uncertainty. In practice, though, it comes down to adding more layers of “what-if” and developing alternatives for how to continue operating under different circumstances. In short, expect the unexpected.
In the age of uncertainty, the key to survival is adaptability. Your operations need to be nimble enough that you can respond quickly and effectively when the unexpected happens. Keep your staffing lean. Set aside contingency funds. Prepare policies and procedures that can easily be implemented if the need arises. Consider in advance how you might retool your offerings and expertise to suit various business conditions. Rather than dwell on obstacles or losses, look for opportunities.
Businesses have always had to deal with some degree of uncertainty. The difference now, as with change, is the pace and volatility of uncertainty. Eventually, probably gradually, this will pass. By that time, many things will have changed, some permanently.
While we don’t know yet exactly what that will look like, we can track its progress and prepare ourselves to embrace the change, whatever it may be. Staying flexible will help you survive the storm, whichever way the wind blows.
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