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Programs

Scenario planning workshop gives leaders tools for responding to crisis

November 4, 2010

Tom Chermack, assistant professor in the organizational performance and change program in the School of Education, College of Applied Human Sciences at Colorado State University, recently held a scenario planning workshop for business and community leaders. The workshop, titled 'Creating Business Sanity in Insane Times,' led more than 50 local CEO's, senior managers, and community leaders in an exercise to learn how to use scenarios to navigate an uncertain future and support current planning practices.

Leaders forced to make critical decisions

Tom Chermack, assistant professor in the organizational performance and change program in the School of Education.

“Decision-makers don't just automatically know what to do and need to explore some possibilities before making decisions and moving forward. A catch line that I use a lot is ‘What are the things you don’t know you don’t know?’” says Chermack.

“Businesses use the scenario planning process to develop their own custom scenarios around a particular issue. Hurricane Katrina, Sept. 11, the financial crisis, BP oil spill, and the Toyota recall are all examples of huge crises in which leaders were forced to make critical decisions.”

Scenario Planning Institute

Chermack was joined by Sue Lynham, associate professor in the School of Education, as well as renowned scenario experts Louis van der Merwe and Napier Collyns. The all day event took place on Oct. 20 at the Hilton Fort Collins. The workshop was part of the recently launched Scenario Planning Institute Colorado State University. The Institute is multi-disciplinary and focuses on improving scenario planning practices through research.

Chermack says he asks leaders what activities their organization is engaged in that if they went poorly, could have devastating effects. “Thinking through options as a learning exercise rather than a budgeting exercise has significant implications for how fast decision-makers can respond and what they will do. If they think about events tomorrow or a year from tomorrow, they should ask who will benefit, how disasters might be avoided, and many other things.”

“The custom scenario building process is a strategic learning process that asks groups of stakeholders to seriously think about these complex issues. A growing sense in the business world is that executives don't have a lot of time to reflect, and this process is built on reflection. So, we ask people to be creative, suspend their disbelief, and engage in a process for building scenarios and then ask how these different scenarios would inform current decision-making. “

Scenario planning process


Pictured left to right are: Louis van der Merwe, Thomas J. Chermack, Napier Collyns, and Susan A. Lynham.

One of the goals of the scenario planning exercise is to narrow down the process to the elements with the highest relative impact on the organization, with the highest relative uncertainty. In times of uncertainty, it is the most useful way of illuminating decisions amidst chaos and periods of rapid change.

The workshop took participants through an abbreviated version of the detailed scenario planning process, providing enough information for executives to decide if this would be a useful process for them to unleash in their own organizations.

Resource in uncertain economy

“Community and business leaders should consider CSU as a resource for assistance in this uncertain economy. No one will tell you that things are going to slow down, or that we’re coming into a time of stability. We are in permanent whitewater, and the decision makers need tools to keep moving forward in the rapids. In the organizational performance and change program in the School of Education, we want to give back by being a serious resource for the community,” says Chermack.


Contact: Gretchen Gerding
E-mail: Gretchen.Gerding@colostate.edu
Phone: (970) 491-5182