Strategic planning during uncertainty

by | Jul 27, 2020 | Strategy

Most organizations recognize the importance of long term planning. However, some organizations get caught up in what the book The 4 Disciplines of Execution by Chris McChesney, Sean Covey, and Jim Huling describe as the “whirlwind” which is “made up of urgencies that consume your time and energy” (p. 7). As I have discussed strategic planning with current and prospective clients in recent months, many are struggling to plan when there is so much uncertainty related to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Photo by Airam Vargas on

When I first became involved with strategic planning processes, I was introduced to the classic Jim Collins and Jerry Porras article “Building Your Company’s Vision” which was published in the Harvard Business Review in 1996. This article remains a classic strategy article and is included in HBR’s 10 Must Reads in Strategy. The authors discuss how successful organizations set a 10-30 year “Big Hairy Audacious Goal.” I don’t know about you, but setting a 10-30 year goal during this time of uncertainty seems daunting and perhaps a bit unrealistic. 

Unfortunately, the current uncertainty has led many organizations to maintain the status quo and get caught up in the “whirlwind” instead of strategically planning for the future. For those organizations struggling with strategic thinking, I encourage them to consider the following approaches as variations to traditional strategic planning processes:

  1. The 4 Disciplines of Execution (4DX) identifies four disciplines that help organizations develop strategy and improve execution of strategy. To avoid having too broad of a focus, 4DX encourages organizations to focus on a single “Wildly Important Goal” or “WIG.” All individuals and teams within the organization align their efforts with the WIG by “acting on lead measures.” Lead measures are behaviors that are directly tied to the WIG. A “compelling scoreboard” is created to track success. “A cadence of accountability” is established through brief weekly “WIG sessions” that review progress and make commitments for the upcoming week. This intense focus can really help an organization set a vision for the future, and implement it, and regularly review progress. 
  2. strategy screen helps organizations identify criteria for making decisions. In his book The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution, David LaPiana writes: “The Strategy Screen is not a rigid framework. Its value is in making your decision-making criteria explicit” (p. 66). Organizations can spend time developing a strategy screen by reflecting on why the organization exists, what it values, and what is feasible. LaPiana (2018) suggests all strategy screens have criteria related to how well the strategy is consistent with the organization’s mission and will “build on or reinforce our competitive advantage” (p. 64). Other examples might include: Will this strategy become profitable within one year? Is this strategy consistent with our organization’s values? A strategy screen can be created now, and developing this criteria in advance of strategic decisions can be beneficial for all organizations. 
  3. Scenario planning helps organize plan for uncertainty, and this process can be particularly valuable while navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. Belinda Lyons-Newman (2020) identifies four steps for scenario planning: (1) “Identify external uncertainties,” (2) “Identify internal uncertainties,” (3) “Explore multiple, alternative futures,” and (4) “Assess the scenarios using a strategy screen.” This process helps identify “what if” scenarios, develops a plan for responding to them, and clarifies criteria for making decisions. Scenario planning can be particularly valuable for industries that are experiencing significant disruption and uncertainty. 

There are numerous approaches to strategic planning, and this article is not intended to be a comprehensive listing of approaches. If you are interested in learning more about strategy, I encourage you to spend some time reading the articles and books that I have written about. One thing is certain: we can’t afford to wait around until things become “normal” again to think strategically and plan for long term success. 

We facilitate planning processes with a wide range of organizations and customize processes to meet their organizational needs. Planning processes can be facilitated in person or virtually. If you are interested in learning more about how we can help you plan for future success, please contact us


Collins, J., & Porras, J.I. (1996, September-October). “Building Your Company’s Vision.” Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from:,core%20ideology%20and%20envisioned%20future.

HBR’s 10 Must Reads in Strategy. (2011). Harvard Business Review. 

LaPiana, D., & Campos, M.M. (2018). The Nonprofit Strategy Revolution (2nd Ed.). Turner. 

McChesney, C., Huling, J., & Covey, S. (2015). The 4 Disciplines of Execution. Simon & Schuster. 

Lyons-Newman, B. (2020, May 8). “Scenario Planning: Rapid Planning in a Time of Rapid Change.” Retrieved from: