Close this search box.
Close this search box.

Beyond Covid: The 10 Keys To Becoming Future-Ready

© AdobeStock
If we assume, as we should, that history will inevitably repeat itself in some shape or form, how can we ensure we'll be ready for the next crisis?

As we reflect on various crises over the last 50 years, we cannot ignore the possibility that history will repeat itself—we seem to enter into one kind of disaster or another approximately every decade. There is something about the way markets and the broader system operates that appears to result in a cycle of “boom-followed-by-bust,” creating the challenge for organizations to predict and prepare for uncertainty and complexity.

The boom has periods of investment, growth, employment, consumption and excess, followed by the bust period that features austerity, unemployment, investment cuts, bailouts and new regulations that attempt—but consistently fail—to prevent it from happening again.

Recommendations for a post-pandemic future

 As we think about these periods of disruption and the boom-bust cycles, essential lessons are to be learned that, if factored into the strategic approach of governments, sectors, and businesses, will support building resilience and limit the impacts of disasters when they inevitably come. Outlined below are 10 essential recommendations that could help lessen future shocks and influence internal systems, leadership approaches and systemic behaviors within organizations.

1. Reflect on, and avoid mistakes of the past.

Companies need to resist the urge to expect that there will be a constantly strong and growing economic system and be prepared for the eventual bust cycle that will come. It’s sometimes easy to fall into a false sense of reality that things are good and will continue to be good, but history shows time and time again that is not the case. Scenario planning helps leaders reflect on the organization’s strategy and evaluate the past, current, and future risks and opportunities.

2. Invest in culture and talent as a differentiator.

Proactive investment in organizational culture and the skills and capabilities of a talent base is strongly associated with companies that thrive in challenging conditions, preparing them to take advantage of future upturns. For example, Zappos carefully reinforce culture through 4-week mandatory training for all new employees. Scenario planning requires investing in the right skills and talent to prepare for the brutal realities ahead.

3. Prepare to operate in a tumultuous world.

Stability is a thing of the past in an increasingly uncertain world. Organizations should work toward a better understanding of the changing realities of the market. They can do this by increasing their external knowledge and building strategic foresight capabilities. The luxury car manufacturer Rolls-Royce does this by using scenarios to formalize uncertainty management.

4. Focus on the future, not just the present.

The most resilient companies are those that balance the needs of the present and the future. It’s easy to get stuck in the moment, thinking only of the short term, but success is achieved by mixing the short term with a long-term view and ensuring strategies and tactics reflect this balanced approach to strategic thinking. Global telecommunications giant Vodafone really focuses on the attributes of resilience through their Future-Ready Report 2020. Scenario planning is, of course, a way of preparing to deal with future realities, whatever they may be.

5. Build organizational shock absorbers.

Organizations need to absorb those moments when business is tricky. Canadian banks were able to emerge unscathed from the 2008 financial crisis – the system of large financial institutions with size and diversification enhanced their robustness. Scenario planning helps leaders ensure their business is stress-tested and resilient.

6. Connect with the external world.

Companies need to remain connected to external threats, opportunities, stakeholders, customers and emerging technologies always. The moment an organization’s leaders lose sight of this is the moment they will miss something important that could affect their business. Netflix is the master of staying connected with their customer needs through crowdsourcing techniques – in fact, they have consistently predicted and adapted to changing customer needs. Scenario planning is an important defence, a way to monitor the risks, trends, and uncertainties and assess what they mean to your organization.

7. Learn continuously. 

An organization’s ability to learn and adapt is an essential aspect of overcoming challenges. Global oil and gas company Shell has successfully used scenarios over almost 50 years to help their organization learn from external risks and uncertainties related to trends in renewables, transport, climate change, LNG and more. With the help of scenario planning, leaders can build a business operating model that fosters continual learning.

8. Exploit business opportunities.

Even in periods of bust, it’s vital to explore and exploit opportunities. Organizations should pursue innovation, which requires leaders to draw on creativity and fearlessness when they recognize fruitful circumstances. For example, the Port of Vancouver used scenarios to identify a novel partnership with BC Hydro to drive a more sustainable future through what they call the Energy Action Initiative. Scenario planning helps leaders recognize unnoticed possibilities.

9. Stay humble, and don’t think you’re too big to fail.

The global banks thought they were too big to fail, but many of them did (ABN AMRO, Lehman Brothers, and Merrill Lynch, for example), and others would have collapsed without government bailouts. Scenario planning shows you worst-case scenarios, which helps you remain focused, humble, and prepared.

10. Remember, it starts with you, not others.

It’s easy during a crisis to blame others—a broken system, an ineffective government—but the reality is that you only have yourself to blame for not being ready for the crises.

In summary, some critical questions need to be asked. What have we learned? How can we avoid plunging into crisis again? What could be done differently next time? Can we plan to be ready as an organization for possible futures, no matter how bad and unpredictable they may be? This is not solved just at the company level but at the political, system, industry, country, and global level. We need better long-term approaches to protect our economies with more sophisticated systems thinking and intelligent organizations. We also need strong leaders who believe in diverging directions involving various techniques, which will lead to new and effective ideas (this is the definition of creativity). These leaders should factor in the broader external forces and prepare for constant change ahead by being a lot more future-ready.


  • Get the CEO Briefing

    Sign up today to get weekly access to the latest issues affecting CEOs in every industry
  • upcoming events


    Strategic Planning Workshop

    1:00 - 5:00 pm

    Over 70% of Executives Surveyed Agree: Many Strategic Planning Efforts Lack Systematic Approach Tips for Enhancing Your Strategic Planning Process

    Executives expressed frustration with their current strategic planning process. Issues include:

    1. Lack of systematic approach (70%)
    2. Laundry lists without prioritization (68%)
    3. Decisions based on personalities rather than facts and information (65%)


    Steve Rutan and Denise Harrison have put together an afternoon workshop that will provide the tools you need to address these concerns.  They have worked with hundreds of executives to develop a systematic approach that will enable your team to make better decisions during strategic planning.  Steve and Denise will walk you through exercises for prioritizing your lists and steps that will reset and reinvigorate your process.  This will be a hands-on workshop that will enable you to think about your business as you use the tools that are being presented.  If you are ready for a Strategic Planning tune-up, select this workshop in your registration form.  The additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $695 will be added to your total.

    New York, NY: ​​​Chief Executive's Corporate Citizenship Awards 2017

    Women in Leadership Seminar and Peer Discussion

    2:00 - 5:00 pm

    Female leaders face the same issues all leaders do, but they often face additional challenges too. In this peer session, we will facilitate a discussion of best practices and how to overcome common barriers to help women leaders be more effective within and outside their organizations. 

    Limited space available.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $495 will be added to your total.

    Golf Outing

    10:30 - 5:00 pm
    General’s Retreat at Hermitage Golf Course
    Sponsored by UBS

    General’s Retreat, built in 1986 with architect Gary Roger Baird, has been voted the “Best Golf Course in Nashville” and is a “must play” when visiting the Nashville, Tennessee area. With the beautiful setting along the Cumberland River, golfers of all capabilities will thoroughly enjoy the golf, scenery and hospitality.

    The golf outing fee includes transportation to and from the hotel, greens/cart fees, use of practice facilities, and boxed lunch. The bus will leave the hotel at 10:30 am for a noon shotgun start and return to the hotel after the cocktail reception following the completion of the round.

    To sign up, select this option in your registration form. Additional fee of $295 will be added to your total.