It was Stephen Covey who said “if there’s one thing that’s certain about business, it’s uncertainty”.

Boy, have we learned that lesson over the past year. And now, as we approach the end of the financial year and possibly year end for many businesses, our thoughts turn to planning and forecasting.

It’s quite a natural response, even among seasoned business owners and leaders, to shy away from uncertainty. Often, plans choose a likely scenario and are then reviewed and tweaked as the months pass. However, in the pandemic-ridden world we now inhabit, it’s hard to ignore the uncertainty. It’s front and centre; far-reaching and it’s affecting absolutely everyone.

So, here are some ideas for how to get the most out of planning when uncertainty reigns.

1.   What does success look like?

Success can mean all things to all people and there are many ways to measure it. When it comes to business planning during uncertainty, we can learn to think in ranges. Using “if this, then that” logic can help us to understand the varying degrees of success that are on the table.

Pivoting is a hideously overused word at the moment, but it’s been a necessary action for business wishing to survive the disruption of the pandemic. I’m hoping there aren’t any businesses out there who are still waiting for ‘normality’ to return: this isn’t an option we should even consider now. Instead, we need to equip our businesses and our people to be flexible, agile and to think outside the box when it comes to serving our customers’ needs.

A great way to focus on a range of success scenarios is to work with a small group of people – from within and outside of the business – who can bring different ideas and priorities to the table. You need to have as open and wide a discussion as possible to ensure true innovation in your planning.

2.   Channel your creativity

Mind mapping is possibly the polar opposite to traditional business planning but, for that very reason, it comes into its own when we are trying to create some different for unusual times.

It involves making your business the central ‘theme’ and thinking of new and related ideas which radiate out from it. There are lots of apps to help with mind mapping but it’s probably still best tackled with a huge sheet of paper and your kids’ colouring pens. Part of this being a success requires you to tap into a more creative part of your brain so use images, colours and scribbles to get your thoughts down on paper.

The ‘rules’ of successful mind-mapping are simple: start at the centre, add your thoughts from the centre outwards, and use images, colour and text.

3.   A plan is a great place to start

Something that’s important to consider is what we do with our plan once it’s created. Most important in today’s climate is to remember that it is not set in stone. We need to be comfortable with revisiting and tweaking our plans; evolving them as situations and knowledge change and grow.

Uncertainty is not a reason to avoid planning; rather it is a time to plan more frequently. There’s no right way but it is true to say that, when we are operating in uncertain circumstances, we have better control when we plan for shorter timescales. So, setting monthly, rather than annual goals could work well.

The only this that is certain as we start 2021, is that covid-19 has set in motion a cultural, technological, and economic revolution. Even now, while we are still operating in a degree of chaos, we cannot know what will arise that might affect the way we run our businesses in 2022 and beyond.

My advice, therefore, is to plan as best you can; dismiss nothing; consider everything; and review regularly.