Strategy in uncertainty: Agile planning 

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Post 2 of the ‘Strategy in uncertainty’ series

An elaborate strategy can feel reassuring for Boards at times of uncertainty. However, it can also underplay risks, slow response times and miss opportunities during periods of change.  We have been evolving approaches to strategy development and planning with partners over the last few years, to build agility.  Our learning is that facing up to the disruptive forces, having an unrelenting focus on impact and a strong position are all essential to success.  Here are the five fundamentals we’ve found support effective strategy development in uncertain times: 

  1. Set your goals for impact.  With pressure on funding, it’s tempting to prioritise income, but targeting and incentivising impact (with income) will focus your organisation on outcomes and help avoid going into pure survival mode. 
  1. Embrace disruption. Face up to the forces of change. Identify the big trends (and likely predictable surprises) to anticipate and respond to, making sufficient investment in the areas that will help your organisation transform.  We use PESTLE, futures analysis and McKinsey 3 horizons model1 to analyse this. 
  1. Understand your position in the market – keeping an external focus.  Where do you add real value – build on that.  Make sure it’s distinct and material for your partners and funders. 
  1. Design for agility.  Help your team make high impact decisions and be agile.  Give them the parameters to make decisions and respond to opportunities, engage them in the process and encourage them to create impact and learn. 
  1. Act with conviction.   Tackle the big changes needed in the organisation.  Use the big bets, no regrets and resets model2 to take action.  Identify new investments, core areas to change and operational ‘quick wins’ for a future focused model. 

Once we accept the uncertainty of our times we can design strategies to navigate through.  Embracing these fundamentals for agility can be reassuring for Boards and liberating for Leadership and their teams.  It starts with the strategic planning process but should become an organisational approach over time. 

By Rachael Clay and Jane Thurlow 


1Enduring Ideas: The three horizons of growth | McKinsey

2 When nothing is normal: Managing in extreme uncertainty | McKinsey