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During these uncertain times of the COVID-19 pandemic we are reminded of former United States Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s “known knowns” quote which is popular in corporate strategic planning.

Rumsfeld said: “[A]s we know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns — the ones we don’t know we don’t know.”

Michael Peregrine writing in Forbes, terms “unknown unknowns” as something that is almost unfathomable. “Where in this matrix would be located a global pandemic the likes of which has not occurred since 1918?,” asks Peregrine. “At the most generous, it is an “unknown unknown” (i.e., there was no relevant prior experience or investigative bases suggesting the potentiality for a disaster of such scope).”

So how can you establish company goals in such uncertain times? For starters, strategy consultant and leadership coach Deepa Nagarajan in her video “Managing Business Goals During Uncertain Times” says that adaptability and agility are the key to success.

Agility is Key When Setting Company Goals in 2021

As the coronavirus crisis stretches past a year, with the first known case in the United States recorded on Jan. 21, 2020, companies know that their goals for 2021 can not be set in stone.Hand with marker writing the word Goal Acronym

Heck, even a whiteboard might seem too permanent in such an uncertain environment. It might even be tempting to forgo setting company goals, but that would be a mistake, according to Sue Gee, business development director at Prosper².

“Personal or business goal setting can be very different … but if you have no goal, and if you’re not clear on what you’re trying to achieve, then it’s very difficult to actually get there,” said Gee in the Business Advice article “Goals Setting in Uncertain Times”.

Like Nagarajan, Gee’s key to establishing company goals this year is agility and flexibility. “Any objective or targets need to be able to move,” said Gee. Companies should be versatile and prepared to adjust their goals as business conditions change.

“Agility is a great word for these times,” says business coach Dave Verburg in a video with Gee. Verburg is a fan of the Rumsfeld quote, urging businesses to focus on two things:

  • Known knowns: those things in your business or sector that are going to stay the same.
  • Known unknowns: those things that will be affected by the pandemic and will not stay the same as normal.

In setting and executing company goals, small business owners should not attempt to go it alone, but involve others and make it a collaborative effort.

“Do not forget to delegate to individuals whose skill set, strengths and passion are better than yours to free up your time to concentrate on the actions you need to take,” writes Debra Kasowski in Forbes.

Short-Range Planning May be the New Long Range

It is tempting during a crisis such as COVID-19 to focus solely on day-to-day and short-term goals, but Gee says it’s important to still set long-term goals. Verburg, however, urges caution when setting long-term goals this year.

“I would look in this current situation as a long term goal to be a quarter. A lot can happen in the next quarter because things can change so quickly you don’t want to be putting so much investment into a particular set of actions at the moment where if we have another (COVID-19) spike, things can change like that,” he says as he snaps his fingers in the video.

Pivot vs. Agility in Adjusting Company Goals

Adjusting your company goals may depend on your response to changes. Is your company “pivoting” to a new line of business or revenue stream or is your business being “agile”, adapting to new conditions?

A cooking school, for example, is being agile when moving from in-person classes to Zoom courses. Their company goals will need to be tweaked but not scrapped.

On the other hand, if your business is a distillery that decides to begin manufacturing hand sanitizer instead of spirits, then this is a pivot and new company goals, and targets will need to be calculated.

Employer Flexible is here to help your business during uncertain times. Contact us today to find out how our stress-free HR services can benefit your Texas-based business.


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