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Thought LeadersAleksandr Katsuba: Strategic planning and war. How does a business plan to...

Aleksandr Katsuba: Strategic planning and war. How does a business plan to survive and grow?

War destroys the familiar world around us. It destroys the phantom stability that each of us builds in our heads and around us. Each of us wants to have our own comfort zone, at least to believe in its existence. This is also true for entrepreneurs who will do business in Ukraine. It would seem that where is Ukrainian business and where is the comfort zone? But only Russia’s full-scale invasion has clearly demonstrated to us that everything we thought was unstable and unpredictable was very much overestimated.

“So, the full-scale war came as a shock to everyone. For business, too. For the first few weeks, the only thing we did with our partners was to donate and rescue employees from the war zone. Then we started to recover, establish processes and return to operations. But uncertainty dominated and still dominates. A missile could still hit an operating company, key employees could be mobilised, or another wave of blackouts could occur due to Russian terrorist attacks. And this will be with us for a long time.

We all hope that the war will end in 2024, as we hoped for 2023 a year ago. And we will pray for it to happen. But we cannot guarantee it, we can only do our best to make it happen. But to find stability in our minds and in our business, we need to think about the future. We need to plan business development, build mechanisms to adapt to new challenges, look for new markets and optimisation mechanisms.

We have seen for ourselves that planning creates a feeling that the business is working and overcoming difficulties for a reason: there is a future ahead that is worth fighting for. The war reduced the planning horizon from two to three years to 3-12 months. There are too many uncertainties that accompany us. However, each of the business areas we operate in – financial services, gas industry and media business – are developing and adapting, finding new sources of income, employing people and allowing me and my partners to donate to the needs of the Armed Forces of Ukraine.

The key planning priorities now include saving the lives and incomes of our employees; maintaining customer loyalty and finding new ones; entering foreign markets to diversify revenue sources; and optimising costs and business processes. Planning allows us to identify key priorities and adapt our processes to the challenges that the Russian occupation army creates for us every day.  It is this prioritisation that allows us to understand why we should continue to work, stay in the country and continue to build our business against all odds.

Planning, adaptation and moving forward allows us to overcome the terrible routine that surrounds us and will continue to surround us: deaths, missile attacks, “chess games”, fear for our loved ones will accompany us for a long time. Planning and vision of what will happen next allows both owners and management to switch to modelling a better and more efficient future. This, in fact, allows us to at least stay at the current level.

Forming a vision of development reduces the level of psychological stress both at the individual and collective level, and reduces the tension of management and employees. For example, it is easier to abstract yourself from the events around you in business than in your personal or family life. It is business that allows you to form more optimistic or at least neutral expectations.

It is during acute crises that planning makes it possible to rationally allocate resources and get rid of all unnecessary things. It is long-term planning that makes it possible to set priorities in operational activities. And, ultimately, planning will make it possible to be the most prepared for the times of recovery and post-war development. After all, all we know about all wars is that they end sooner or later.

What should be done to make the plans effective? My partners and I have identified 4 key rules:

1. Think in a multivariate way. Plans should include scenarios for the development of events. Optimistic, conservative, pessimistic, catastrophic. Each of them should include the criteria that define it; a general action plan in case of implementation; possible consequences and an action plan after the event.

2. Plans should be flexible. Too detailed and rigid plans are difficult to implement in peacetime, but in wartime, in addition to specific steps, they should provide for some flexibility, adaptability and the ability to change them quickly. This gives confidence and is a direct consequence of the first point.

3. Try to avoid unnecessary emotions. We all believe in a quick win at an emotional peak, and almost all of us despair when we are at an emotional peak or just tired. We all get scared, and that’s normal. But it doesn’t work in planning. You have to work out a plan for, for example, the continuous operation of the business, for example, interaction with suppliers and customers in a blackout. Identify the necessary resources and procedures. This will put you above emotions.

4. Have positive scenarios. The owner or top manager should have enough arguments to motivate people. Demonstrate why relocation is better than keeping the company in place. Prove that entering the Polish market is an important diversification, not a chaotic decision. To argue that a plan to keep working during a blackout means keeping customers and employees’ income. Because every challenge is a new opportunity.

The future scenario will allow you to survive challenges, even if you are a small or medium-sized business. Many large corporations and small shops do not survive crises and shocks because they fall into the maelstrom of managerial collapse, when plans do not work, management panics and hundreds of wrong decisions are made. This can always be avoided if you look at the difficult future with a cool head. Exchange views with partners, management, employees, and key contractors. Then the quality of planning will increase by an order of magnitude, even if you are planning in the dark during power outages.

A picture of the future and planning gives us peace of mind. The brain draws a picture of the future and feels calmer. It adapts better to the new reality. Planning energises you. And all this together gives hope, purpose and meaning. Both in business and in your personal life. And this is the most important thing you need to survive the war and face peacetime stronger.”

Aleksandr Katsuba is a Ukrainian entrepreneur, energy expert, owner of the ALFA GAZ company.

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