Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve been forced to slow down many aspects of our lives while simultaneously being thrust forward into the future. Like time travelers, stepping out of a capsule into a new tomorrow, we’ve observed what seems like years of change despite only a few months passing. Many of the leaders we’ve spoken to about their personal experiences during the pandemic reflect this theme:
And two weeks before the world changed, on March 2nd, Jon Lindekugel, former SVP of Operations at 3M told us how “a pandemic, a strike at a key shipping port, tighter pollution controls in China, geopolitical events like a trade war - any one of those will wreak havoc with supply chains. All these factors put a massive premium on seeing around the next corner and acting on what you see in real-time, not six months later.”
In the first few weeks of the pandemic, everything seemed to be happening at once, and years of change suddenly became condensed into a few weeks.
As we begin to emerge from the proverbial time machine, here’s what leaders find:
Having sped up the tape so suddenly, what now? What happens when you’re instantly thrust around the next corner, and what’s around the corner after that is anybody’s guess?
How To Make High-Stakes Decisions When The Future Is So Uncertain
1. Re-establish priorities
In the first few weeks of the pandemic, we wrote about How to Prioritize When The Coronavirus Turns Everything Into Chaos. Ask the right questions, think differently about who to engage and involve in answering those questions, empower them to surface and discuss what matters most, and give them the means to co-create the answers they believe in. Use their recommendations to help inform the organization’s priorities and the important decisions you have to make.
2. Make the high-stakes decisions fast
Thus, it’s now even more important for leaders to learn how to navigate complex challenges quickly. The practices coming out of complexity science have always emphasized speed, exponentiality, and agility because multi-faceted, dynamically changing, interconnected challenges don’t wait around for traditional, linear strategic planning. Make it a personal priority to learn these practices, to ensure your organization develops or acquires the necessary capabilities, and to be ready to apply them whether people can get into the room together to do so, or not.
3. Make decisions in a way that accounts for both the present and the future
High-stakes decisions always require a line-of-sight to both today and tomorrow. But there’s a natural inclination to be short-sighted during a crisis, so your organization’s decision-making process is especially vulnerable right now. Unless you root out your bias for the present, many of the big decisions you’re about to make could easily require a “redo” over the next year or two as a very new future comes more sharply into focus. Given how prohibitively costly it will be to correct mistakes, you have to land these decisions in a way that accounts for both the present and the no-longer distant future.
We’ve curated a list of enormous business decisions from our recent conversations with leaders and organized them into a handful of thematic areas. While it’s impossible to know what is around the next corner, questions like these will require you to take your best guess:
With potentially millions or hundreds of millions of dollars and the future of the organization at stake, you can’t afford to go slow or be strictly near-sighted in making decisions like these. Make sure your decision-making is informed by the right people and the right amount of “looking around the next corner”, and make sure it is fast and effective even while operating at a distance.
We didn’t ask to be fast-forwarded into the future, but here we are. Amidst all this uncertainty, what is certain is that you need to start tackling the big questions now, rather than waiting for things to come into focus or for people to be able to gather.
Now is the time to bravely crack the seal on the time machine and lead the way into the future.
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