Thinking strategically in times of uncertainty

A recent online LUMS event brought together applicants, students and alumni from around the world, each curious about how strategies evolve in a time of global pandemic.

Dr Radka Newton, MSc Management Programme Director, shared insights into recent changes in consumer behaviour and potential socio-economic scenarios resulting from the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic. The event, hosted via Zoom, also included opportunities for participants to share their own perspectives and learn from each other’s experiences, via breakout room discussions and notes on a Padlet digital wall.

Jo Telfer, Head of Behavioural Insight at Sellafield, who has been providing valuable input into the MSc Management curriculum and who often joins our classes as a guest speaker or panel member, commented: “Really well done on such a well organised and thought-provoking online event! I took lots of notes and there were a couple of things I want to talk to my colleagues about which you have sparked in my mind. I really enjoyed the breakout sessions also – it reminded me how much I enjoy supporting your students.”

Global economic impact

The first area of focus was to reflect on the global economic impact of the pandemic and to explore possible future scenarios presented by KPMG, PwC, Imperial College and a multinational design and engineering firm, Arup. Scenario planning is used to evaluate possible strategic options for organisations, focusing on variables occurring in external environments such as the public response to lockdown, global coordination of the pandemic, virus spread and health systems response or economic policy response. These variables provide an insight into possible futures that organisations may have to face and it gives leaders an opportunity to test the resilience and robustness of their strategies with a view to making their strategic choices as future-proof as possible.

In their first group discussions, the participants agreed that there have been significant geographical differences in the response and impact of Covid-19, which are harder to experience at this time of isolation and restricted travel. This may lead to much larger media influence and a skewed view of the world. Tom Huggon, who graduated from the MSc Management in 2010 and now works as a consultant in Manchester, UK, remarked: “I really enjoyed the content and the interactive style of the event. It also enabled me to speak to people from different parts of the world which gave me greater perspective on their situation in these times.”

The future scenarios initiated a lot of discussion about the expected second wave of Covid-19 and the input from Padlet revealed a consensus of belief that there will be a second wave worldwide, regardless of whether an individual country responded quickly or slowly. However, the economic impact might be less severe in fast responding countries.

Recent changes in consumer behaviour

In the second discussion, participants compared recent changes in consumer behaviour and reflected how their own buying preferences had changed. The breakout room discussions brought about yet again very interesting insights into the consumer trends in different countries and also different sectors. The participants included this point on the Padlet board: some industry sectors are already finding new opportunities. It will be down to those businesses in lower margin industry sectors to pivot and see whether they are able to target appropriate market segments given the new landscape.

Dr Newton added: “The success of pivots in this unprecedented global pandemic has been informing our recent academic research and we are hoping to draw up some useful best practices for SMEs who are considering to redirect their strategic options to new possibilities.”

The importance of data and global awareness

Lastly, a lot of discussion was focused around the importance of data, data privacy and our willingness to volunteer data to external organisations. Participants shared a lot of thought-provoking examples about the use of data in social media and in the Covid-19 testing and tracking endeavour and the issues related to data management and privacy.

This event highlighted how crucial it is to connect with global audiences and to open your mind to perspectives and experiences from different parts of the world. Our thanks go to all participants for the stimulating debate!