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Corporate planning in jeopardy

COVID-19 has not only increased the uncertainty in corporate planning, but also increased vulnerability and volatility in the most critical resource in any business, and that is the human resource. We are all saddened that our country continues to grieve over so many lives that have been lost and are being lost. These are men and women with unique skills, entrepreneurship and outstanding dedication to duty in their areas of specialisation or business. It has taken this country so many years to attain this level of human capital. Many of our country’s contemporaries have strongly attested to this, particularly during the just-ended national mourning of our first President Dr Kenneth Kaunda. We have all been reminded how at independence in 1964 Zambia had only slightly over 100 university graduates. The impressive numbers now speak volumes about the country’s accomplishment in education. Therefore, to lose so many people in such a short time has a very serious impact on corporate and public performance of our country. This is in addition to the disempowering effect this scenario has on individual families, coupled with the depriving effect of the loss of loved ones. Under such a hostile and uncertain environment, businesses struggle to craft plans even just for one year, let alone a longer-term plan beyond one year such as a strategic plan. This is indeed a challenge that is putting corporate planning in jeopardy. Of course, corporate plans are developed using forecasts, judgements and assumptions about an increasingly uncertain future. Lucey (2009) further asserts that planning is an inescapable part of all rational human activity. It covers both the long- and short-term horizons with a focus on the environment, the objectives, the factors which influence the achievement of the objectives, and the choice of strategies and tactics to achieve the objectives.
However, the season we are in just makes corporate planning a very difficult exercise. The markets for most goods are shrinking and with these are reducing revenues. Zambia’s gross domestic product is expected to record a paltry growth of one percent in 2021 and two percent in 2022 (African Development Bank). On the other hand, the global economy is expected to grow by 5.6 percent in 2021 (World Bank Group). The Covid-19 situation is indeed attacking the viability of most corporates in our country and reducing disposable incomes of consumers. Global productivity appears stable, with a positive forecast probably due to vaccination interventions against Covid-19 which have been accelerated. However, the only parameters looking up in Zambia include the energy sector, which has become stable with scaled-down or phased-out load-shedding. This is likely to propel the manufacturing sector into some relative growth. The other areas giving some positive indicators are the information and communications technology (ICT), health and financial sectors. Parameters such as interest rates, inflation and exchange rates continue to be volatile, hence making corporate planning relatively difficult. The other parameter we need to continue watching is the political stability of our country as we approach the general elections of August 2021 and beyond. Political stability attracts foreign investors and this helps in stabilising our exchange rate with fresh inflows of foreign direct investments. Just as the country is planning for its Eighth National Development Plan, so should corporates also continue with their corporate planning despite the difficult circumstances. As asserted by Benjamin Franklin, “If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” Further, Antoine de Saint-Exupery said: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.” Corporate planning may therefore be in jeopardy but we should not abandon it. However, in our planning, it will be prudent to apply conservative parameters, particularly when recognising income streams. Meanwhile, let the prevailing circumstances propel us to depend more on God so that we return to the normal we know. In Paul’s writing to the Corinthians, he acknowledged his limitations against adversaries and difficulties which he highlighted in 2 Corinthians 4:8-9: “We are troubled on every side, yet not distressed; we are perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; cast down, but not destroyed.” Indeed, may this be our inspiration today and beyond, doing everything humanly possible, as we strive for the survival of the human race and its enterprise. The author is a business strategist.