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What questions should leaders consider when facing an uncertain future?

Chief Executive Officer Oliver Shaw explores essential questions that organizations should consider to navigate economic uncertainty and ensure long-term success.

Published by Oliver Shaw 

In my last article, I talked about the steps organizations can take to navigate economic uncertainty to ensure a more secure long-term future. I also explained why I think it’s important to avoid short termism, because uncertainty in many respects is here to stay.

Global markets, consumer demand, and even how work itself is done have all undergone dramatic shifts in recent months. This makes it difficult for leaders to know what the right decisions are for the future of their organization, especially when the availability of resources is so unpredictable and limited.

To give your organization the best chance of success during these challenging times, there are some essential questions to consider. By taking a step back and asking these questions, you can better steer your organization through the fog of uncertainty and identify strategies that will create long-term value. Here are three of the most critical questions to think about:

Can we survive and what are we going to do if we can’t?

It’s the question every leader secretly fears but it’s unavoidable in times of adversity. Those that turn away from it may be all but sealing their fate. Be completely honest with yourself when examining the financials, when assessing customer churn, and in understanding whether a product or service is still commercially worthwhile. You can paper over the cracks but the cracks will keep getting wider if you do.

This is the sharp end of leadership where careers and livelihoods are at stake. There are hundreds of heartbreaking stories of leaders plowing extra cash into a business to prop it up, only for it to fall over when headwinds such as a recession hit at the wrong time. Instead take a proactive approach, explore the data in detail, and get to grips with whether there’s a path to survival on the organization’s current trajectory or whether you need to quickly take steps to pivot, so you make it through the storm.

How happy and committed are my customers?

Once you’ve confirmed the viability of the organization’s current strategy under new conditions, it’s time to dig into the relationships you have with your customers. The big question is “Am I starting from scratch each quarter or will my customers keep coming back?” The simple answer is it’s up to you.

Having the right skills in the right place at the right time to meet the expectations of customers is non-negotiable. In difficult times, leaders should be laser-focused on the organization’s relationships with its customers and looking at how they can provide added value to reinforce those relationships.

Listening carefully to what your customers tell you and making improvements will build trust and create more sustainable relationships. When customers are themselves under financial pressure, the risk that they’ll walk away is inevitably higher. Simple but so often overlooked.

Reorganizing your business in response to customer feedback requires a level of agility to make changes quickly. Similarly, in responding to sudden market changes or unseen threats, those organizations that invested in agile structures will be glad they did. But regardless of your situation, you should assess how well your workforce is able to meet changing customer needs and what processes need streamlining to address the most immediate pain points.

How should I be spending my time on the frontline?

Talking directly to those employees that are bearing the brunt of change can give leaders a true picture of what’s happening on the ground and can provide valuable insight into customer sentiment. Leaders that are present at the coalface will give the workforce confidence that they have a finger on the pulse and can effect change quickly.

But to make first-hand information meaningful, you have to walk through the process yourself. There’s no better way to understand customer onboarding than to experience it as if you’re a customer. You’ll see where the process falls down and how this could undermine relationships in the long term, but also what appeals to customers, what they value most, and what can turn them into advocates.

It may seem as though investing time in this way during a crisis is counterintuitive. You may think there are so many other pressing matters, but this is exactly the time to give your customers and workforce your full attention.

No matter what, just do something

Doing nothing at times like this is not an option. So, if you’re not sure what to do or where to start, just do something. Business leaders and management teams that ask the tough questions will find they’re able to generate energy and create motivation to weather the most challenging situations.

Returning to where we started, finding a way through uncertainty all depends on whether you’re prepared to look into the storm. You should also want to balance the short-term actions that are necessary to head the threat of recession with those that invest in the long term.

By keeping your customers close and your workforce even closer, you’ll avoid the trap of short-term gain at the cost of long-term pain. If you see through the fog of uncertainty to the opportunities that forced change can present you with, your organization is more likely to emerge from this period of volatility in a stronger, more stable position.

Workforce optimization

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Oliver Shaw

Chief Executive Officer, Orgvue

Oliver is an experienced leader of fast-paced, sales-led organizations across numerous products, industries, and distribution channels. He has a strong track record in delivering shareholder value by executing strategies that drive growth in revenue and profit, while delivering world-class service to customers. Oliver began his career in sales and marketing roles in consumer financial services, helping to build fast-growth brands like Capital One and Ageas Insurance. He moved into the technology sector in 2009 when he joined IRIS Software. He has spent the last 10 years in executive roles including Divisional CEO and Merger & Acquisition Director, helping to build one of the largest privately owned software companies in the UK with a valuation in excess of £1 billion. Oliver joined Orgvue as Chief Executive Officer in January 2023 from retail analytics platform, Kalibrate. He holds a degree in Business Studies from Humberside University and an MBA from Nottingham Trent University.

Photograph of Oliver Shaw

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