Unknown Unknowns Reshapes Strategic Planning

President & CEO


CEOs aren’t just focused on the current disruptions anymore, they are leaning in and identifying the unimaginable (unknown unknowns). For company Executives and Trade Association CEOs, it’s imperative to account for the unimaginable, and this happens by incorporating Scenario Planning into Strategic Planning efforts. Scenario Planning broadens Strategic Planning deliberations, and it forces consideration of most eventualities. In a marketplace defined by disruption and chronic uncertainty, the unimaginable must be addressed in every Strategic Planning process.

Industry Executives and Trade Association CEOs are incorporating Scenario Planning into their Strategic Planning efforts. One prescient Trade Association example is Arlington, Virginia based the Fertilizer Institute (TFI). Corey Rosenbusch, President & CEO, leads from the marketplace (outside in), and his organization continually focus on building Strategic Plans that incorporate elements of Scenario Planning. This market based approach creates a “rising tide that lifts all boats” opportunity for all parts of the Industry’s Value Chain. Rosenbusch notes, “as the world population needs to be fed, our Industry must be prepared to react to everything from weather events to sudden and unexpected shifts in government policy. TFI brings the Industry together to build precompetitive solutions, and that’s something we’re very proud of.”

TFI is a data driven organization, and it utilizes Industry Data to develop and refine a Roadmap to support the Fertilizer Industry. From the macro environment to understanding the impact of regulations in global markets, TFI is seen as “the Industry.” The Board and all Members look to TFI for actionable information that will help inform their own company strategies. The Industry also looks to its Trade Association to create a business environment that helps all companies. Recognizing the market’s expectation, Rosenbusch and his team go beyond the traditional Advocacy and Government Relations definitions. Instead, they first build scenarios that promote the value of the Industry to the U.S. Economy, and at the same time they deploy multiple deliverables to help shape a more favorable business environment. TFI’s work reflects an evolving trend among Trade Associations.

Since his arrival at the organization in 2020, Rosenbusch applies a data driven approach to drive Strategic Planning and Scenario Planning. Starting with Qualitative Research (interviews) and “Industry Trends” Research, this market based information delivers a baseline of information to support a robust, thoughtful, and market focused planning process. The Executive Committee and Board of Directors collaborate with TFI’s Senior Team to build a flexible and durable Strategic Plan. The planning process ranks possible occurrences and outcomes by their likelihood of happening, and they also rank them by the potentially catastrophic consequences of ignoring them as possibilities, and then they move forward based on priorities and probabilities.

If a Trade Association wants to Reimagine Industry Growth in unpredictable times, they must first learn to account for the unimaginable. Rosenbusch and his Team continue to perfect their ability to surface, understand, and address as many of the unknown unknowns as possible. TFI’s Strategic Planning and Scenario Planning efforts help to position themselves as a “best practice” organization.

Keep in mind that Scenario Planning is a key element of Strategic Planning for Military Leaders, and for good reason. Many generals throughout the ages would attest to the accuracy of General Dwight D. Eisenhower’s assessment: “Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.” Eisenhower pointed out that the very nature of an emergency is that it is something that emerges unexpectedly and that it will not therefore happen according to your plan.

As Trade Association CEO’s and Board Leaders prepare for Strategic Planning in 2024 and beyond, keep in mind that Volunteers will only spend time and money on efforts that reflect their business approaches and outcomes. Embracing a data driven Strategic Planning Process that incorporates Scenario Planning will energize the Board and the Members. It will also demonstrate a Trade Association’s business acumen by accounting for the unknown unknowns. From now on the path to success for every Trade Association is paved with actionable strategies that address the unimaginable.

To learn more about how your Trade Association can incorporate Strategic Planning and Scenario Planning, please contact team@potomaccore.com.