Disaster Scenarios: A High-Stakes Game of “What If?”

Last week, I had one of those experiences that nobody wants to have. A fire at a neighboring home threatened my own house. Firefighters stopped the flames a mere three feet from my door. Too close. In the time between my call to 911 and the arrival of the fire department, I was a whirlwind of activity, manning the garden hose, rounding up the dog and getting together things vital to take in the event the worst should happen. Happily, the worst didn’t happen. But it almost did. And the whole experience reinforced for me just how valuable it is to think ahead. To imagine what might happen and what I’d do to manage adverse circumstances if they occurred. In essence, an exercise in the childhood game of “what if?”

In the world of business, thinking ahead is a vital skill for leaders. Certainly, our current economic situation underscores that. What if my company lost half its customer base? What if the market for our products disappeared? What if we lost our best vendors? Or our top salespeople? For the optimists among us, what if recovery is just around the corner? What if business suddenly doubled? What if we needed more salespeople who could hit the ground running? Or greater manufacturing capacity? Or faster R&D?

Such thoughts point out the far-reaching value of an i4cp staple: scenarios. If you’ve thumbed through any of the Highlight Reports that we publish for each of our Knowledge Centers, you’ve seen scenarios that pose “what ifs” for the business world as we imagine it a decade from now. What if such-and-such happened, we ask ourselves. How would that affect organizations? What would leaders need to do, not just to cope with changes, but to emerge from them with companies that are stronger and more competitive?

If you aren’t already mulling over the possibilities that could re-shape your organization’s future, now’s the time to begin. And i4cp Highlight Reports offer the perfect primer for such exercises in leadership. In the Effective Leadership Highlight, for instance, Knowledge Center manager Donna Bear poses four scenarios that consider the impact of diversity and develop-within versus hire-from-without approaches to leadership development. In my last Highlight on Managing Change, I considered potential outcomes around competitive pressures and workers’ skills shortages. These are just two examples.

For every issue i4cp researchers examine, you’ll find scenarios to help fire (pardon the pun!) your imagination about the range of circumstances you might be called on to handle one day. Take advantage of those resources. Become a forward thinker and see your way through situations – both great and not-so-great – before they arise. When challenges do come, you’ll be prepared to act faster, more decisively and more constructively. In short, you’ll be armed and ready to demonstrate the dynamic, proactive leadership skills your organization needs.
Carol Morrison
Carol Morrison is a Senior Research Analyst and Associate Editor with the Institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp), specializing in workforce well-being research.