We are only 15 days away from singing auld lang syne saying goodbye to 2019 and welcoming in the New Year! But are you READY for 2020?

And I don’t simply mean when do you open after the holidays, or what are you hoping to achieve in Q1? I’m not even asking what your 2020 goals are. I want you to stop for a minute and look far out and answer:

What would you do,

if you knew you couldn’t fail?

The pressure of doing business today, of beating the last quarter and making the next, is too often a stagnation to deeper strategic conversations that your organization ought to be having. And whilst sales targets and conversion ratio’s are all important to prevent either going or GROWING broke! You need to stop for a minute or three and see the big picture. You see in most businesses the big picture isn’t big enough.

Let me offer you a quick scenario to help paint the picture.

I’ve recently returned from speaking at an international conference to a team of business leaders from all over India. As I sat on the aeroplane I’m excited and looking forward to my time out there.

As the plane sped down the runway, I was pushed into the back of my seat, and as the plane left the ground, both it (and my) nose were pointing upwards, towards the sky.

And it’s the same in business when things are going well. We lift our spirits (and our game) we look into the future and see optimism.

Meanwhile, on my return back to the UK, I had just left a warm and beautiful country, flown for over 18 hours and returning to a dark, cold, and damp Manchester!

As the nose dipped towards the runway on our final decent, so my own body leant forward, seeing the immediacy of the ground as we neared the runway again, in hope of a perfect landing!

You see, when the going is good, we are optimistic and look forward. And even though I couldn’t SEE Bali (my final destination) I was excited, enthusiastic and looking forward. Yet, when things are not going so well, our mood and our energy changes, our aspirations of the future allude us, in favour of simply hoping we make a good landing and not crash on the final decent!

Having spent a significant amount of time traveling all over the world, delivering keynote presentations and masterclasses about the power of thinking BIG. It has never been more important and relevant to develop a much broader view.

You can start by asking everyone within the business to write down their ideas about the following questions.

Make it clear that responses may be shared (either anonymously or with personal attribution) to stimulate discussion about topics that should be addressed.

  1. What strategic issues are of most concern to you in your current position or more broadly for our organization as whole? Speaking our truth can sometimes be difficult, but when approached effectively gaining grass root insight can be the most invigorating and cathartic opportunity for business owners to really see the future capacity within their current framework.
  2. What is your typical time frame for strategic decisions and long-term planning? How many years out are you thinking and what is the business scope you normally consider, from local or regional to global?

Leaders have to know since they need to think longer term than the management team; after all, if not the leaders, who will? When I was fortunate to work with the Executive board of a leading supermarket chain, I was always enamoured by the Chairman’s 13-year business forecast. Even though, strategically they only planned 3-5 years ahead, he had the vision and foresight to look way beyond the strategic plans to an aspirational future. And within my time in the military learning the 15-20 year strategic considerations for the Re-build of Bosnia after the invasion, even before the war was over.

What would constitute some very bad external scenarios for the business, including social, political, economic, ecological, legal and regulatory forces or technologies that are beyond your control? On the 12 December this year, we had a General Election. Possibly the most important General Election in the past 20 or so years! And in January 2020, (after the decision in 2016 was made to leave) the country will leave the EU.

It is only when we begin to expect the unexpected that we start to understand the flaws and frailties within our business and begin creating sustainability measures to fend off rival or hostile take over opportunities.

Early this year, I was invited to Farnham at their themed TEDx event ‘The Future is NOW’. Where I shared ‘The Careers to apply for, that don’t exist yet!‘ All based on FUTURE planning, and FUTURE PROOFING both you and your business.

Conversely, what especially good external scenarios could plausibly happen over the next five years, covering perhaps the same but also different topics, forces, themes or issues? Good news scenarios are psychologically easier to envision but can still easily be overlooked or misconstrued. It’s good to take risks in business, but measured risks are far easier to enter into and adapt if rehearsed, than when we are caught in a storm we never anticipated.

The British Army are still considered as one of the most professional fighting forces in the world. Not because of the biggest numbers or the most advanced weaponry, but because we spend so much time training for every possible scenario, and playing it out. To determine all the potential outcomes and how to react to these whilst maintaining the mission and Battleplan foremost in our minds.

  • More fanciful yet, what would be the top three questions you would ask in order to help you better perform your current leadership responsibilities and/or help the company overall?
  • What would you ask your future self that could aide you make the right decisions right now….
  • And what would you future self reply!

This may sound rather nonsensical on a screen. However, if you actually stop and ask your future self a question, and listen as your mind tries to answer it. You will inevitably find, you already know many of the answers. You simply don’t yet know how to ask the right questions!

  1. What are some current or upcoming strategic decisions for which some of the above scenarios and/or uncertainties are especially relevant, and why? Suppose your big upcoming decisions are about opening a new office, launching a new product, or entering a promising strategic partnership. You now need to examine how these possible moves play out under a good vs. bad scenario and some in-between cases as well. In short, try to stress test your choices. Think OUTSIDE your business, outside your geography, outside your industry. What are the BIG things requiring attention right now, and what are YOU doing to address (or support those who ARE addressing them)
  2. Which external issues are the most important for you to track over the next 12 months, either for your own area or the organization more generally? What metrics would you ideally monitor?  Forward-looking measures are clearly better than rear-view mirror ones. Your early warning dashboard should be tied to both your strategy and external scenarios. If you want to track shifts in consumer preferences or service quality for instance, look at customers you lost and why. If you ask them, and know how to listen with a third ear, you can learn a great deal from them, your rivals and your own people.
  3. What significant external developments were spotted too late in the last five years by you or the organization; why do you think these blind spots occurred? Also, what important developments did you spot ahead of time; what helped you or the firm stay abreast of these undercurrents?

Once the right issues are surfaced, various approaches can then be followed to develop suitable responses, such as resolving pressing choices near term or developing a sharper strategic vision for the long term. The leader’s imperatives here are to start the strategic conversation from the outside-in, make room for diverse and even unpopular inputs, develop an inclusive process, and respect uncertainty by not trying to predict what is unknowable. Then, test the robustness of any decision or strategy against multiple scenarios of how major external uncertainties could play out. The broader these uncertainties are, the more flexibility should be built into your strategy, say by using an options approach when making large investments. Leaders need to both remain and reward alertness to external changes and foster organizational agility, so that quick actions can be taken when needed.

In essence, the game today is about being smarter, quicker, more agile than the competition and to set yourself such a Big Fat Hairy Audacious Goal as to concentrate the mind for every single employee for every day of the year, that makes such a huge difference to the world it would be scary NOT to achieve it!

Whenever somebody buys a copy of my book ‘The Road2Utopia (and how to take a shortcut’ if asked, I will always write the same message in the front cover:

“Your future,
shall ultimately be determined,
by the quality of questions,
you learn to ask, of yourself”

So my question to you today, is simple:

  • WHAT are your plans for 2020?
  • Are they big enough?
  • And how do they fit into your BFHAG?

If you’d like to know more about how to turn GROWTH to SCALE, simply book a complimentary coaching call with one of our award winning SCALE coaches.

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Other articles you may find of interest:

Why saying NO, is good for business

How to make busy people say YES

What stopping you from SCALING your business?

Please do leave a comment below and let me know your thoughts on the need to THINK BIG?