NAVIGATING UNCERTAINTY: Preparedness
May 2020 | ISRAEL J. RODRIGUEZ, JR.
In April, Edgewood Consulting talked to leading food, drug, mass, club and online retailers, 25 VPs, Directors, Category managers and senior buyers across several food, OTC, HBA and perimeter categories for their thoughts and perspectives on the Covid-19 crisis impact on retail and they were exceedingly honest. How do retailers feel? What are their priorities? What lessons have they learned or want to learn and what help do they want most? Here’s what we learned.
“Next Phase? Return to normal? I don't think it will be up to us”
“What will new-normal be like? I have no idea, but I know it will never be the same.”
We asked retailers what the next phases will be like and when they will begin, and the most common first answer was an honest “I don’t know”. There are so many unanswered questions that still haven’t been resolved months into the crisis.
• How long will quarantine last?
• How virulent is Covid19?
• Will it return?
• Will we find a cure/vaccine and when?
Take each of these key questions, assume each has a good, a bad and middle of the road answer, and you end up with 81 potential scenarios.
In sports, coaches improve their team’s chances of winning with competitive intelligence. The best football coaches scout, study film, develop game plans and practice to prepare. The team that makes the best adjustments in games usually wins, so coaches have strategies to continually read the other team’s schemes, their plays and defense. Good teams impose their will when they can and take what their opponent gives them the rest of the time. To throw opponents off their game-plan, savvy coaches increase uncertainty for their opponents with motions, shifts, audibles, RPOs, counters, play action, no huddle hurry-up and a host of tactics to take away opponent’s strengths, disguise their own and increase competitor discomfort.
Likewise, consumer goods strategists know they cannot shy away from uncertainty. Thought leaders recognize that they need to assess, learn and find ways to make the best plans possible and be ready to make last minute adjustments in the face of uncertainty.
Uncertainty is why military strategists engage in war-gaming to plan under multiple scenarios.
Implications: Collaborative partners who can add value with actionable insights and thought leadership will earn their seat at the table. Thought leaders who can add value in helping to take a rational, strategic approach to navigating these uncharted waters and uncertain times will be rewarded with success over brands and retailers who make poor choices, aren’t nimble or make the bigger mistake of waiting... until it’s too late. This is indeed a call to action.
Moving Towards Preparedness
Retailers admit they were caught unprepared for this crisis. They waited for leadership and when direction came, it came too slowly. This is a wake-up call. Retailers want to proactively prepare for the next/new crises.
“People top to bottom just panicked. We took too long to respond. We didn't have
anything planned for such an event. Everyone looking for directions from others.”
“No one knew what to do... took long time to come up with directives”
“Our fault not having plan B... more so, not considering such event could happen.”
“None of us were ready... What would we do if half of the US is out of power?”
“...say internet went out statewide. Would we know what to do?”
Retailers insist they don’t want to be caught so flat-footed next time. They want to plan strategy & tactics in advance that will address multiple scenarios and several possible disasters from another pandemic to regional power outage, cyber-attack, etc. To execute these crisis plans effectively, organizations need to do more than develop plans. They need to find, train & empower leadership from HQ to store level. Equip them with playbooks, practice and training to be able to adjust on the fly and support them with a culture of empowerment.
“We need to have plan B, plan C moving forward. Assess certain scenarios and ways to deal with each. It's like building a bomb shelter during war.”
Implication: Scenario plan to develop strategies to execute in next crises. Also train and empower leadership with a culture to execute effectively and make necessary ‘halftime’ adjustments.
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