Finding Direction During Uncertainty: In Praise of the 18-24 Month Plan

By Danielle Rocheleau

Right now, we are all operating through a time of great change, unrest, and uncertainty.

As a non-profit leader, is it still possible to conduct big-picture planning during periods of disruption? What is the best approach? What traps should you watch out for? I’ve provided my perspective on these issues below.

I’ve also scheduled a free online Open Office Hour so non-profit leaders can start to discuss and overcome these hurdles. If you’re feeling stuck on big-picture planning, consider joining us on Tuesday, August 18 from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm. You can learn more and register here.

If you’d prefer 1:1 support, please reach out via our Contact page and we can set up a one-on-one call for you with one of our consultants.

Common Leadership Pitfalls in Times of Uncertainty

“Predict and Control” Mode

When things get rocky, we often move into “predict and control” mode, where we focus so much on the immediate task that we lose focus on the path ahead. This approach can:

  • Reinforce hierarchies, reducing employee autonomy and harming workplace culture
  • Scramble your approach to internal and external communication
  • Reduce your teams’ efficiency and effectiveness
  • Hurt your ability to be a great community partner

Decision Paralysis

Alternatively, while operating through a pandemic, many leaders have found themselves in a state of “decision paralysis.” This phrase refers to a place of overthinking, where leaders feel disempowered to make long-term planning decisions because they don’t know what will happen next.

For example, you may be thinking to yourself, “How can I make big-picture decisions right now? Even if it seems like the right thing to do in the short-term, it could have unpredictable negative consequences in the long-term. Therefore, it’s probably best for me not to make any big-picture decisions at all.”

While tempting, this logic is dangerous – it doesn’t give you more control, and it doesn’t make things more certain. As the old saying goes, failing to plan is planning to fail. 

How to Take Back Control During Periods of Uncertainty

The Rise of Agility in Planning

Beyond the advice shared in my earlier post about leading through uncertainty, there is a growing amount of literature showing us that we don’t need to hold fast to traditional models of strategic planning. Previously, a focus on long-term planning (5+ years) – in which we would play out specific scenarios, choose what we think is best, and then measure ourselves against that over time – was common practice. Now, change happens more rapidly – over months rather than years.

As a result, there is a strong movement toward thinking about leadership differently. Consider ‘leadershift’ vs leadership (John C. Maxwell), where leaders and organizations develop plans that remain agile and ready to adapt.

How to Decide When to Plan

Your strategic planning may happen on a regular cycle, for example, every 3 to 5 years when your previous strategic plan comes to a close. Or, it may become something on your ever-growing “To Do” list. In fact, this might be the way that our paths have crossed in the past – either through developing your organization’s plan, or meeting Laridae at a focus group for one of your community partners.

The question should not be whether or not to consider the future direction of the organization.

So, whether or not your planning cycle renewal is approaching, or you’ve been considering planning for some time – this current global moment begs the question, “To plan, or not to plan?”

The question should not be whether or not to consider the future direction of the organization, nor whether it’s the right time to do so. Rather, it’s a matter of what the right time frame is for your strategy.  Enter the 18-24 month plan.

The Rise of the 18-24 Month Plan

In most cases, we work with organizations on developing 3-5 year strategic plans. We make sure that these plans are specific enough to offer clear direction, but broad enough to allow flexibility and adaptability to changing circumstances.

Over the last 5 months, we have gone through an interesting journey with a number of organizations that were in the midst of their planning processes as the Covid-19 pandemic unfolded. The circumstances have led us to help these organizations develop focused ‘medium’ term plans, which act as a bridge between current circumstances and a subsequent multi-year plan. These medium-term plans have helped these organizations move forward confidently through significant change, while allowing for ongoing adjustments as needed.

For example, when considering workplace culture, people like to know what is expected and where they are headed. Establishing a more immediate strategy in the context of crisis or significant change enables clarity across the organization, and garners alignment with the board of directors, senior management, and various teams. A great example of this approach is a recent plan that Laridae team members completed with Surrey Place, which moved through a transition of leadership amidst the pandemic.

What Can You Do Right Now?

As you consider whether or not planning is right for your organization at this point in time, given the circumstances, note that the last few months have shown us that we can still work collaboratively and effectively, whether in person or virtually. Of course, the traditional full-day planning retreats in board rooms might not be an option, but there are many creative and effective ways to ensure that your planning doesn’t get stalled.

Knowing that much of what you do may seem muddled at the moment, I strongly encourage you to set your eyes on the horizon. Create some clarity and focus for the coming months as the world sets to a ‘new norm.’

If you are wondering whether or not it’s the right time to develop your strategic plan and want to explore your options, know that Laridae is here for you.

Here are two ways to connect with us right now:

Contact our consulting team for a one-on-one call

Get in touch through our Contact page and we’ll set up a one-on-one call with one of our consultants to discuss your current situation and how we may be able to help.

Join Our Upcoming Open “Office Hour” Discussion

On Tuesday, August 18th from 1:00 pm to 2:00 pm, I will be hosting an online Open Office Hour discussion session for non-profit leaders on the subject of short- to medium-term planning.

If you are struggling with gaining clarity, feeling decision paralysis, or are facing other hurdles that are preventing you from strategic planning, this session is for you. Get your questions answered and hear from other leaders who are facing the same concerns.

Register below for free to receive the Zoom link: