The Adventures of 2023 Planning and Lessons From a Tumultuous 2022

Thick fog over mountain slopes on overcast day

By any measure, 2022 was a year of nearly unprecedented change and for many of us, one that we are not in a hurry to see repeated. While 2022 saw most of the covid-related restrictions lifted, experts are still debating the lessons and the long-term cost to things like education and small businesses as well as impacts on mental health. In addition, many businesses are still struggling with covid-related supply chain issues, including supply chain ‘whiplash’ in industries that saw big spikes in demand.

In the aftermath of the pandemic, pent up demand is keeping many industries strong (have you been through an airport lately?), even while some fundamentals of the economy look weak. Unemployment remains low, but partly because millions have voluntarily left the workforce. Since this summer, we have been experiencing inflation rates higher than we have seen in nearly 40 years. In response, the Fed is rapidly raising interest rates which has industries that depend on capital investment becoming increasingly nervous.

There is a rare consensus among economists and commentators that we have either entered a recession or soon will be in one. Of course, no one knows if it will be short or long, deep or shallow, or how the various factors above will play out industry by industry. All this makes planning for 2023 even more of an adventure. For most of our clients, budgets are tight, contingency plans are being drafted, and, in some cases, the layoffs have already begun.

Reflecting on all this as we do our own planning for 2023 at Amphora, we are reminded of two key principles that we have stated before: first the importance of seeing through the turmoil to sort out the temporary from the permanent changes; and second, having a strategy that is robust enough to survive a range of conditions without fundamental change.

On the first point, we do believe that the last several years have accelerated some changes that will be permanent and mostly for the good.  A partial list includes:

  • Purpose: Increasing recognition among corporate leaders and boards of the importance of a company having a purpose beyond just making more money for shareholders.
  • Employee Engagement: A workforce with a changing hierarchy of internal values, in many cases emphasizing lifestyle options (like work from home), pride in their contributions and ability to make a difference above maximizing financial opportunities.
  • Focus and Clarity: Related to that, an increasingly savvy workforce that sees meaningless corporate missions and visions as the cheap window-dressing that they are, and hence eyes new corporate initiatives with skepticism.
  • Adaptability: An emphasis on agility and the ability to make ‘smart pivots’ rather ‘sticking to the plan’ which places a premium on effective, engaging and inspiring communication and (hopefully) is gradually moving the pendulum towards empowerment and away from central control.

On the topic of having a robust strategy, while we do not claim to be prescient, we take some pride that our mission and strategy have held up well despite all the largely unanticipated change in the world around us. We continue to see opportunities to improve our clients’ outcomes as well as change individuals lives by helping them think strategically.

We have adapted to a shift away from big in-person workshops and have experimented with a number of hybrid delivery models, but the core content has changed little. Our value proposition of a repeatable process to embed strategic thinking while improving real business projects still resonates. And our ability help strengthen client capabilities by supplementing teams with our experienced consultants and proven frameworks has allowed us to build a viable consulting firm that is unlike any other.

Most importantly, as we enter our twentieth year of operating as Amphora Consulting, we have not had to change our core values.  We continue to be committed to:

  • Objectivity: consultants can always make money in the short-term by telling companies what they want to hear, but we will never do this, even when that means difficult conversations.
  • Root Causes: it is easier for consultants to sell standardized band-aid solutions that treat visible symptoms at least for a while. In contrast, we insist on asking why enough times to ensure that our recommendations developed alongside the client treat the underlying causes and can help achieve lasting success.
  • Fun: While we always take our work seriously, too many consultants fall into the trap of taking themselves too seriously, never smiling or laughing in front to the client as if the fate of the world depends on their next PowerPoint chart.

This last point is perhaps the one we are most grateful for.  For two decades, we have been lucky enough to work almost exclusively with people that we enjoy being with outside of work. In fact, maintaining an ongoing dialogue with interesting people is so important to us that when covid travel restrictions prevented us from having these discussions at hotel bars, we launched our virtual happy hour series. While we always start with a semi-business-related topic, discussions take on a life of their own and have ventured into time travel, quantum physics, the history of innovation and the facial hair styles of Civil War Generals.

Yes, as we get ready to begin a new year, we are truly fortunate. We have a great team who respects each others’ work and enjoys each others’ company. We have clients who genuinely appreciate what we can do for their companies and in many cases for their personal development and ultimately for their careers. Some of these clients have even gone to bat for us when budgets got threatened.

So, thank you all for helping to make this an exciting and eventful year. We know that the mix of business, the modes of communication and the delivery models will likely continue to evolve. But we are confident that our core mission and values will survive.  We look forward to working with you as we face together the next set of challenges the world throws at us.  Best wishes for a peaceful and joyful holiday season and a fulfilling 2023!

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