How to Move Forward When You Don’t Know Where You Are Going

As a language major in college, I spent part of my junior year in Europe. A semester in Florence was followed by the summer in Paris. The period between the two programs gave me the opportunity to roam through Europe with a backpack to see places I had only heard about.

Sounds exciting, right? Not for me. I’m a planner, so I frequently found myself frozen about where to go because I didn’t have a clear direction.

So, my fellow planners, raise your hand if you love knowing where you are headed so you can create and implement a plan. Needless to say, my hand is up high.

Now raise your hand if jumping in feet first and figuring things out on the fly works for you.

Good for you. And quite frankly, this is where we are at the moment. We are in a world where our old definition of normal is gone and we don’t quite know how a new definition will look.

So, how do you navigate in a world without a clear direction? Consider these three ideas.

1. Get a solid footing. It is difficult to move forward when your world is still moving. You still have people you need to communicate with and continue to communicate to. Ensure you have a crisis team and that they are clear of their role in getting you through the crisis. This includes ensuring your people are safe, your financing and aid are figured out, your expenses are under control and your balance sheet is managed. Ensure proper and timely communication with customers, suppliers and stakeholders. Get stable. Then, catch your breath.

2. Gather information. Then, set up your plan-ahead team. This is different from your crisis team because their focus is on information-gathering. Stop and notice what about your organization worked well and didn’t work well before and during the crisis. Don’t judge it; just notice it. Things that worked well can give you an idea of what to lead with in the new normal. Things that didn’t work well can be improved because any situation, including crises, provides opportunities.

Don’t limit your information-gathering to your organization. Stop and notice what is going on around you because of the crisis, as well. How are consumers acting? How are people communicating? What do people need, want or choose most? What challenges became clear during the crisis that won’t go away without attention? What opportunities did the crisis create for you, your people and your business? Take inventory. Now you know what is actually true versus what you believe to be true.

3. Create future scenarios. Since we don’t know where we are headed, flexibility and adaptability will be your best allies. Start first by building or imagining several possible future scenarios, based on the information your plan-ahead team gathered about your organization, the workplace, the world and trends. You can’t wait until everything becomes clear; the plan-ahead team needs to envision a future through the clouds and fog of the current moment. This ensures the organization starts thinking and planning in several different directions to be able to respond when the fog clears. The worst thing an organization can do at this moment is sit back and wait to see what will happen.

Consider, also, that the organizations that act nimbly and responsively will set themselves apart as the visionaries when things settle. Having thought about the direction things may go can accelerate a response and help you become a shaper of what the new normal becomes. How could your organization step up and lead in this period of confusion, in a way that is responsive and successful?

So, how do you move forward when you don’t know where you are going? Get on solid ground. Understand what is going on. Build scenarios of where things could go. Then stay close to information as things change to be able to add new scenarios or modify the ones you have until you start to develop some clarity about what the future looks like.

This is how I navigated my time in Europe. At the start of each day, I took a breath to stay calm, I took inventory of my resources (i.e. cash, time), then I created options for the day. Though my plan for the day was to visit Milan, bumping into a friend who was on his way to Madrid allowed me to be flexible and respond as my world changed. Madrid became my new destination, and I knew I had the time and the resources to make it happen.

Seems like this approach could serve us well at the moment.

By Jay Forte

Consider reading Define Your Edges

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