6 Steps to Finding Focus in the Fog – A Strategic Response to Uncertain Times

With such ambiguity surrounding the unfolding of the pandemic, its effect on the AEC industry, and the upheaval to everyday life, it’s natural to take a cautious, wait-and-see approach. But for business leaders who have studied previous catastrophic events or lived through earlier economic downturns, they know that now, more than ever, is the time to be strategic and plan for recovery.

The particulars of when and how the economy will reopen are still being formulated, and regional differences are certainly expected. However, the longer a firm waits for the fog of uncertainty to lift before it takes a proactive approach, the more ground it will lose.

Smart firm leaders are already taking steps to identify new opportunities, update client retention plans, and position themselves to garner more market share from their slower-moving competition.

Strategic planning by its very nature is forward-thinking and requires research, brainstorming, analysis and educated best-guess predictions about the future. While the pandemic has presented many new challenges, we should rely on sound strategic planning principles to guide us through the uncertainty, just as it has throughout the history of modern business and society.

Read our 6-step “Finding Focus in a Fog” plan of action below to guide you right now to prepare your firm for the new normal.


1. Form an advisory group comprised of all levels of staff from every aspect of your business.
In addition to the executive planning team, this assembly serves as a focus group to acquire intelligence, run ideas up the flag pole, as well as aid in two-way communication. Most importantly, it develops buy-in at all levels and equips staff for rapid awareness and service to your clients.

2. Stay abreast of general news, public sentiment, and industry-specific issues.
Use internal and external team members to be your eyes and ears. Assign one person or a small team to curate and summarize the content and to report important and relevant changes and updates in a timely manner.

For instance, an employee, listening to a governor’s daily press briefing, picked up on a phrase mentioned during a longer statement about beginning to plan for the reopening of the economy. It referenced physical modifications to facilities being required before retail and corporate establishments could permit employees and customers to enter their building. Tracking the details during the forming of these requirements has positioned the firm to be a resource to their clients and to be equipped to provide them swift response.

3. Update your SWOT Analysis.
During times of increased stress, a firm’s strengths and weaknesses can not only change, but possibly better position it to meet a particular need of its target markets. It also may help identify areas to improve or messaging that needs to be modified. Equally important is to brainstorm opportunities and delineate new or intensified threats.

A good example is an architecture firm who previously identified having a proportionally significant amount public work as being a weakness. They were focusing on the growing multi-family residential market to diversify their markets. With the pandemic-induced downturn, however, they were able to quickly refocus their marketing and business development efforts to rekindle relationships with several long-term public clients, which helped fill the void caused by stagnating private work.

4. Survey your clients and colleagues.
Enlist all staff in reaching out to clients and colleagues to better understand their specific challenges. Inquire about information, resource and service needs. Provide helpful data and referrals whenever possible. Record all information in your CRM, respond to direct opportunities your firm can fulfil right now, and communicate unfulfilled needs to the strategic planning group.

5. Perform scenario planning.
Using your executive and advisory group, conduct a scenario planning exercise to determine potential outcomes based on the information acquired in steps 1 through 4. Focus on potential opportunities, forecast probabilities, and match these to the firm’s strengths. Assign leaders to investigate further information needs and focus on the best, worst and most likely scenarios.

6. Analyze the Data and Brainstorm transferrable opportunities.
Armed with credible information, tracking trends as they unfold, cultivating client and colleague relationships, and enlisting the troop of staff, firm leaders can develop a plan of action that includes constant monitoring of key indicators and a system to respond with agility.

There are no guarantees in an uncertain climate, but history has shown that the probability of your firm surviving and thriving this downturn will improve tremendously if you strategically plan for it.

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