How Can Corporates Plan For The Longer Term When Uncertainty Is The Only Certainty?

Uncertainty

 

Corporates typically draw up plans for expansion, growth, hiring, and other such activities keeping the longer term in mind. Indeed, it is almost axiomatic that corporates need to have some “grip” on the future through accounting for risks, planning on mitigation of those risks, and to anticipate what are known as Black Swans, low probability and yet, high impact, events that present them with problems related to their operations. In my time in the corporate world, I experienced, first hand, how RMPs or Risk Management Plans were prepared keeping in mind the longer term objectives, goals, and strategies, that would help us in anticipating, reacting, responding, and mitigating risks, However, we were also weary about the aforementioned Black Swans and their ability to upend the “well laid plans” that the best and brightest often involved themselves in.

One such Black Swan that present day managers have to grapple with is the ongoing pandemic that has disrupted the business world in ways that were unimaginable even a couple of years ago. Despite some forecasting models that cautioned the American businesses about such a pandemic, with some defense agencies too forewarning against the kind of pandemic that we are now living in, nobody, including the best of the risk management firms, could have expected that the pandemic would “live this long” and that too in such a pervasive and comprehensive manner. So, how does India Inc. or for that matter, any corporate worldwide plan for the future when the only certainty is more uncertainty? Indeed, as we struggle to define and formulate responses, the virus mutates, causing more chaos and confusion, and throwing a spanner in the wheels of the growth engine that drives corporates.

While WFH (Work From Home) was supposed to be a temporary solution in 2020 (it does seem like an earlier era!!), increasingly, we are moving towards hybrid work arrangements, that combine WFH with Onsite work. Moreover, there is even talk of making WFH permanent, though that is limited to a few firms. Who knows!! If the pandemic continues to make its presence felt and not become “endemic” as many experts aver that the Omicron variant would be the one that makes Covid as common as the cold, then corporates would have to again mull over about WFH, Onsite, and Hybrid work models. In the United States, there is the additional problem of managing the Vaccine Mandates, since there is a robust and often irrational movement against wearing masks and getting vaccinations done. Indeed, should corporates allow unvaccinated and unmasked employees to resume in person work, when the threat of infections remains high, that can cause another disruption to their operations?

If this were not enough, then there is the question of employees quitting en masse, in what is being dubbed as The Great Resignation, driven primarily by the Millennial and Gen Zers, reevaluating their priorities on what they want from work and life. Moreover, with so many 18 to 25 year old’s burning out and experiencing stress that they cannot cope up, managers and the HR (Human Resource) professionals have a tough task on making up for attrition and increased sick days off. How can corporates think of the longer term when they cannot even retain their existing workforce and have to continually scout for talent? In addition, it is a sellers market meaning that jobseeekers have the upper hand, thereby making corporates rethink pay, perks, and bonus plans.

On the other hand, there is a “race to the bottom” business environment, where the viral times that we are living in, make us susceptible to what is known as the Present Shock, or being blindsided by the present so much so that longer term thinking and planning seem like alien concepts or worse, nonexistent thoughts. At the same time, there is a restive unionized workforce that is increasingly vocal and sometimes militant against the gross inequality that is making real wages stagnant and those of the upper percentiles booming. Coupled with The Great Resignation, this makes for a toxic work environment that is “each for themselves” thereby jeopardizing the communal feeling that is so essential for productivity and growth.

In the midst of all this is the Technological Acceleration that is leaving us overwhelmed and with the pandemic blues of weirdness brought on due to forced isolation and over dependence on technology, it sure looks like we are on a “treadmill to nowhere”. As I write this, the Omicron variant is again flooding the hospitals with patients, so much so that the government banned out patient and elective surgeries and visits, instead focusing on making capacity available for Covid cases. Yet again, we are stumped by the Third Wave and while present prognoses do not alarm us, nonetheless, it is better for corporates and us as well to err on the side of caution. So, here we are, two years and counting into the pandemic with no clear path as to where this would take us and when we are “free” or what such a New Normal would look like.

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