“The future belongs to those who prepare for it” – Malcolm X.
How unexpected is the unexpected?
In the last week, one of the UK’s leading fashion retailers Republic went unexpectedly into administration putting 2,500 jobs at risk. It was only in 2010 that the business was bought for £300 million by private equity firm TPG and appeared to have a bright future at the time. The immediate issue appeared to be poor trading over the key Christmas/ January trading period, the unusual poor weather and snowfalls hit store sales badly across many market sectors. Whilst it’s always difficult to predict the future, this blog covers a useful technique to help you manage the worst the unexpected can throw at you.
How can you better manage unpredictable events?
In ancient Rome, an augur interpreted the will of the gods by examining animal behaviour and their entrails. Today, few of us would base our predictions for the future on the pecking behaviour of sacred chickens, or the liver of a sacrified sheep.
In fact, many of us would say you cannot predict future events. We may be able to envisage likely outcomes, or have a global notion of what is to come, but improbable events occur without warning, and catch many of us off guard.
But whilst we cannot know for certain what will happen in the future, we can plan for it. And what’s more, we can plan for future success.
To do this, we must shift our focus from the general to the local, because it is in the detail that we sink or swim. Have you thought about specific situations that might arise in the future with regard to your business? Have you planned a strategy to react to them?
In order to avoid being paralysed by indecision when faced with the unexpected, and take measures to ensure future success, we need to home in on the specifics of a situation. When we break this situation down into its component parts, we can identify and develop strategies for what needs to be done. How to do this is outlined below.
Six Steps to Plan for the Future
There are two parts to the process, identification and development. The four initial steps form the identification part, starting by pinpointing the initial problem and leading to building the possible scenarios which derive from the specified problem. Once these are established, the final two steps are the development part of the process, in which the scenarios are explored and business opportunities are predicted and analysed.
1. Identification: problem
Find and specify a particular problem or potentially challenging situation for your business. It is useful to state this as a question. Though the problem can be phrased generally (in terms of concepts rather than specific business facts), it is best to keep it as simple as possible to minimise variables.
2. Identification: decision
Isolate a decision which arises from the problem situation that will need to be taken. You should only select one decision, as your problem should be specific enough to only allow for one variable you can control by a decision-making process. If there is more than one variable beyond your control, refine your problem identification to its simplest form.
3. Identification: forces
Pinpoint the principal forces which will have an impact on your decision. These forces could be economic, technological, environmental, or otherwise associated with your business or your competition, and should relate back to the subject of your decision.
4. Identification: scenarios
Based on the principal forces you have identified, you can now build scenarios which could potentially arise given the forces at play. Of course, the possibilities are infinite, but it is best to restrict your scenarios to four or five plausible future situations. Remember to factor in both probable and improbable scenarios, and don’t forget that a valid scenario may be ‘nothing changes’ (i.e. all factors remain the same in the future as today).
5. Development: scenarios
At the development stage, you need to explore what could happen in the scenarios you have identified, and you do this by varying the forces (identified at stage 3) that affect your decision. By changing the forces and combining the changes produced, you create patterns which illustrate the possible consequences of your decision. These ‘narratives’ allow you to track the possible outcomes of a decision needing to be made based on the outside factors which influence it. A sensible projection for your narrative’s timeline is five years (i.e. what impact will your decision have over the next five years?).
6. Development: actions
You have now plotted out a step-by-step, multi-outcome forecast for your business over the next five years, with the key scenarios identified and explored. The final stage is to analyse these developed scenarios and search for business opportunities within each possible future situation. On establishing the scenarios, some actions to be taken will be immediately obvious. However, it is worth taking the time to explore the narratives you have developed to find potential commercial opportunities and areas for innovation.
Is there a bright future now for the Republic business?
The Republic business has some great brands, a decent website and some high performing store. I remain hopeful that the new owners can reshape the business to save as many of the 2,500 jobs at risk and satisfy its loyal core of happy fashion customers in the next few weeks.