Senior EY Strategy Partner Lance Mortlock on Scenario Planning

What is scenario planning, and what is EY looking for in its new recruits? Lance Mortlock, EY Senior Strategy Partner based out of Canada, is here to answer those questions and much more. Lance brings over 20 years of strategy consulting experience and a silky-smooth British accent to the table. In this interview, you’ll get to learn about Lance and his new book, Disaster proof: Scenario Planning for a Post-Pandemic Future.

In addition, Lance shares his perspective of what it takes to be a good consultant, and what the firm looks for when hiring at Ernst and Young.

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Senior EY Strategy Partner Lance Mortlock on Scenario Planning

Stephanie Knight  00:33

Welcome to this week’s episode of Strategy Simplified, we are very excited to have with us Lance Mortlock, who’s a senior strategy partner with Ernst and Young. He’s based in Canada, spent over 20 years so far, in management consulting, has worked with over 60 organizations in 11 countries overseeing hundreds of projects, working primarily in mining oil and gas power and utility manufacturing, airline infrastructure, government and public sector organizations. And we are excited to pick his brain a little bit today get to know him better, and also hear a little bit about his new book. So Lance, welcome.

Lance Mortlock  01:11

Thank you. Thanks for having me.

Stephanie Knight  01:13

Oh, it’s a pleasure to have you. We’d love to just get to get to know you a little bit better. Up front, we have a couple of fun questions we like to ask. So, you know, you ended up with a robust career and management strategy consulting. But what’s one career that you could have pursued but didn’t?

Lance Mortlock  01:32

Good question! I had the opportunity to get into scientific research. It would have involved me doing a PhD in research, but I didn’t. And I can talk later about the reasons that I didn’t do that. But it would have been a very different track in my life had I gone down that path.

Stephanie Knight  02:01

Absolutely. So I look forward to circling back to that later. The world is finally opening up. I have a lot of wanderlust I know personally, what’s one of your favorite vacation spots?

Lance Mortlock  02:17

So before Covid-19, my family and I used to actually travel quite a bit all around the world. And so one of our favorite spots couple of years ago is we went to Namibia, in Africa. It’s just just north of South Africa. And we had a fantastic family holiday, doing Safari, hiking, and really just exploring a wonderful country. So that was one of the one of the highlights in the last few years.

Stephanie Knight  02:53

Absolutely. Still seems a little far away at this point.

Lance Mortlock  03:02

Hopefully, we’ll get it sorted out soon. And I used to say to my American friends that if you have any spare vaccines, can you send some north of the border. But we’re actually getting a lot of vaccines up here now in Canada and I’m getting my first vaccine on Tuesday. So very excited to get back to some element of normality.

Stephanie Knight  03:28

Absolutely. So maybe the slower rollout of vaccines hasn’t been one of your favorite things about being in Canada at the moment. But what’s one or two kind of underrated perks about living in Canada.

Lance Mortlock  03:40

I mean, it’s so originally I’m a brit, as you can probably tell from my accent, but been in Canada for 12 years. And you know, the thing that I love about being here is the skiing. My family and I ski a lot. The skiing is amazing. And just the outdoor way of life. There’s just tons of spots to you know, hike and explore and kayak. And Canadians as Americans will always say are so nice. So it’s just so easy to live here. So I feel very, very privileged to live in this part of the world.

Stephanie Knight  04:23

I feel like Brits are so nice, too. But do you think that Canadians are even nicer?

Lance Mortlock  04:28

Oh, yeah. Brits have got a bit of an edge to them sometimes. But Canadians are incredibly welcoming.

Stephanie Knight  04:39

Well, Lance, so we got to know you just a little bit personally, what about professionally? Tell us a little bit more about what you’re doing nowadays. And you know, what makes up your days?

Lance Mortlock  04:49

Yeah, so I’ve been consulting for 20 years now. And as a strategy consultant, I really get the opportunity to work with all kinds of companies on their most complex strategic issues. And I love that about my job. I wake up in the morning, every morning, working on all kinds of interesting stuff with senior leaders and different public and private sector organizations. And I get a real kick out of that. Helping companies and organizations be successful is a very rewarding component of what I do.

Lance Mortlock  05:36

And so for EY, I lead our strategy transformation group. And really, that’s a group of folks in Canada who focus on on helping clients with those kinds of issues. And so we’ve got consultants in all the major cities across Canada, really helping all of the major sectors with their complex strategic issues.

Stephanie Knight  06:09

And what made you decide to get into consulting in the first place?

Lance Mortlock  06:14

Yeah, it was kind of a bit of a fluke actually. So when I did my undergrad degree, in a place that most of your listeners would have never heard of, in the UK, a university called Exeter, which is quite a good university in the UK, by the way. But I did my undergraduate degree in sort of biological science, biochemistry. And I kind of talked to a career mentor who said, you know, you can continue down that path of sort of science and research and probably do a PhD. But have you ever thought about, you know, maybe getting into business? So maybe the starting point is to do an MBA. So I went and did my MBA. And that really kind of opened my mind to kind of business which I found, you know, pretty interesting and curious. You know, I’m a naturally curious person, I love to learn. And so I did my MBA.

Lance Mortlock  07:14

And then the first company that I joined was Anderson consulting, way back when, and they had a recruitment fair, at Cardiff Business School, which is the business school I went to, to do my MBA. And they were talking about consulting. And the thing that really appealed to me was the variety. You know, consulting brings this real diversity in terms of different projects and different clients. And I was kind of like, that’s pretty intriguing. I think I could quite enjoy that. So I ended up joining Anderson consulting, which became Accenture later on.

Lance Mortlock  08:00

And I guess the rest is kind of history, as they say. But what was pretty interesting early on in my career was I remember having one of those first conversations that you have with a pretty senior partner. His name was Tim. And I was in Arundel Street in central London, in the UK. And Tim kind of swoops into this meeting room. There’s a bunch of analysts, and he kind of looked at me and he said, So, Lance, how do you feel about Oman? And I didn’t even know where that was geographically.

Lance Mortlock  08:50

And he’s like, yeah, there’s a big transformation project going on there for a national ore company. We want you to fly to Oman, and spend the next couple of years working on this big transformation. So off, I went, green behind the years with my MBA thinking that I was the bee’s knees. And little did I know as I kind of turned up on this major program, and and then just things went from there. And I was very fortunate in those early days to, to work on some pretty interesting programs.

Stephanie Knight  09:26

Oh, gosh, that sounds like quite the start. If that was in your first couple of years, that was quite the transition for sure. But then you made a you made a mid career transition from Accenture to EY. What helped prompt that shift?

Lance Mortlock  09:43

Accenture is a great organization and I had a wonderful 10 years with them. I had the opportunity to travel all around the world. I worked in Oman. I was in Qatar for a while, Malaysia, Holland, Norway, all kinds of countries working on projects. But I guess I kind of reached a natural point, a natural end point in my career with them where I wanted something more. And I think what was particularly appealing to me about EY was one, they were very interested at the time in kind of developing strategy type services. And so I had an opportunity to come in, and really build that team in Canada.

Lance Mortlock  10:45

And I think the other part of EY that was pretty appealing to me was a very entrepreneurial culture, where you can work on, you know, very, very large, complex change programs and strategies to, you could be doing a project for a non for profit, and everything in between. So I was quite intrigued by that. And plus, you know, as a private partnership, it has a very different feel. I would say EY is very paternalistic in its approach. It is very kind of family orientated, even though we’re several hundred thousand people around the world. And so it’s just a great organization. And I feel, you know, quite lucky to be working here.

Stephanie Knight  11:36

As you know, many of our listeners are aspiring consultants. And so when you think about what makes a good EY consultant and what you’re looking for in your hiring process, what are some of the things that come to mind?

Lance Mortlock  11:51

I think you need to be, and I touched on this earlier, you need to be naturally curious, and really have that drive and that desire to learn. I think we’re looking for people that have a work hard play hard mentality. We want people with balance, we want people that are able to apply themselves and focus on work. But you’ve also got to have a life. And that’s important, because that makes you a more interesting person. And it allows you to kind of resume and build relationships with our clients, which is very important. I think an analytical brain, and the willingness to break down problems and want to problem solve is absolutely critical.

Lance Mortlock  12:43

And I think you’ve got to have passion and fun in you want to do, right? Otherwise, people are not going to want to work with you. So those would be my top four, top five.

Stephanie Knight  12:56

No, absolutely. And so when you think about those, and you think about the long career you’ve already had in consulting, what are some of the skills personally, that you most cherish, about being in this line of work?

Lance Mortlock  13:14

My team will kind of laugh at me because I talk about this all the time. You need to lead with insight. And what I mean by that is, you have to have a point of view. And so I try and instill in my Canadian team, just the importance of that, in being a strategic advisor. What’s your perspective, what’s your point of view? And so I’ve always taken that forward with me in terms of the way I approach things, in building the team and building our offerings and our services that I’ve had the opportunity to kind of publish a number of points of view on different topics.

Lance Mortlock  14:02

And I think that that has served me well in my career and my team’s in opening doors that, we’ve just put out this point of view on cost excellence or the DNA of the chief strategy officer or artificial intelligence in the energy sector. I want to talk to you about it. Lead with insight. Don’t lead with solution answers, assets, want to sell you something. Lead with, you know, there’s this complex thing happening in the world and we have a point of view on that. We want to share that and have a dialogue with you.

Stephanie Knight  14:43

Absolutely. I love that you said that. We talk a lot about the difference between being an advisor and being an analyst and needing to come with that assertion, that lean in and actually give that recommendation, have a perspective at the table and it seems to be a hard shift mentally for a lot of aspiring or new consultants to make.

Lance Mortlock  15:06

Yeah, I agree. And it comes with time. I mean, we have a model. And I think this is important that you bring in smart junior people from, you know, top business schools and you grow them from within and they start as analysts, and they build the skills as they go. And part of one of those skills is the insight and I think that that comes over time.

Stephanie Knight  15:36

You mentioned your opportunities for publishing. And certainly, you’ve hit a good new achievement with your new book: Disaster proof: scenario planning for a post-pandemic future, AI, the new frontier.

Stephanie Knight  15:51

Let me first say, it’s visually stunning. I think the design of the dust jacket is beautiful. Even for those new in the space or aspiring consultants, I absolutely think that this is worth picking up and it’s worth a read. I had to chuckle to myself off the cuff, looking through and saying, this is a consultant. It’s got the frameworks, it’s got the flow charts, it’s got customized acronyms. You’ve got two by twos, you’ve got case studies. And so to really see in practice, in actuality, how these things that for students and early consultants just seem like theory, I think that alone, that the whole book, and the application of such is to be able to see, hey, you learn all these things in school. And this is how knowledge is created and institutionalized in the real world as well. You will continue to utilize these frameworks that you’ve learned and being able to structure and put things into, you know, frameworks and etc, that you’ve created, helps actually move ideas forward.

Lance Mortlock  17:00

Thank you for that, first of all. I really, I really tried to create the book in a way that it was accessible to everyone. So it’s written in a way that one of your listeners that is an aspiring consultant that wants to get into strategic planning, future thinking, can pick it up and go, Yeah I kind of get that. It’s logical, it’s practical, it’s easily applied. And so that was certainly the principle that I tried to apply to how I wrote the book.

Lance Mortlock  17:39

And I also tried to write it from the perspective of not only a consultant, which I am, and you know, I can’t help that. But also, that a leader, a CEO, a board member, a scenario planner, an analyst in an organization could pick it up and get something out of it. So I think that there’s lots of different things for different people in the book, and it’s certainly written that way.

Stephanie Knight  18:08

Absolutely. For our listeners, would you just give a brief introduction of scenario planning in the way that you’ve defined it in the book?

Lance Mortlock  18:15

Yeah, absolutely. It really comes down to thinking about the future, and thinking about multiple futures.

Lance Mortlock  18:25

So this is not about forecasting. This is about, what are different futures that can play out, and are we strategically prepared for that? So there’s future A, which could be a set of drivers and uncertainties and future B, which is a different set of drivers and uncertainties. So it’s thinking about, what are those different futures? And it’s exploring through that process complexity and uncertainty and ambiguity and volatility and saying, can we apply a more formalized process to understand what’s going on in the world, make sense of it, and paint this picture of these different futures?

Lance Mortlock  19:09

And then it’s translating that and saying, are we strategically prepared for those different futures? And what components of our strategies stay the same? And what components of our strategy will actually need to change based on those different futures? I could go on longer but in its essence, that’s what it is.

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Stephanie Knight  20:06

You talk about the need for roles or functions in scenario planning that, to be successful, need clear lines of communication to the CEO, and/or the CSO. Now, do you think that it’s a tougher challenge to get organizations to buy into scenario planning in general? Or, that they have some sort of scenario planning function, but they don’t have the direct communication? Or the connection to lines of authority to actually put the right decisions in place?

Lance Mortlock  20:43

I’ve seen both. I would say it’s a mixture out there. There’s some companies that don’t do it at all. And there are some companies that do it, but they do it in an ad hoc, non routine way. And then others that maybe do it, but it doesn’t translate down into the organization. A great example that I talked about in the book is with British Airways, a good British company. As a brit, I have to talk about BA!

Lance Mortlock  21:17

But they used it to really drive frontline communication to their service staff. And it really transformed the way they delivered services to customers, airports, in call centers, so it really went from the top down. But then I’ve seen other organizations where, you know, it’s really the top strategic thinkers that are using it to drive strategy, but there’s no translation down. I think it really depends what kind of company you are, what makes sense.

Lance Mortlock  21:57

And you need to work through that. I mean, you can be successful in all of those models. And I think the trick as a consultant for your listeners on this podcast would be, as you advise different clients on what success looks like, I think a big part of it is listening to and understanding what kind of company are they? What kind of challenges do they have in terms of communication? And what will work best for them? Because it’s never a one size fits all.

Stephanie Knight  22:29

You’re very clear in the book that scenario planning is not the same thing as strategic planning. And I think you’ve alluded to that already in this conversation. But do these processes still exist in something of the same space within an organization? Or is this something that usually has to be carved out in a completely new way?

Lance Mortlock  22:56

There’s a number of different things that I talk about in the book. So one is the difference between scenario planning and forecasting.

Lance Mortlock  23:05

Forecasting is really – what’s probable, and a very quantitative approach to forecasting the future with some sensitivity analysis around that. Whereas scenario planning is more – what’s plausible, and there’s a qualitative and a quantitative nature to it. And it’s really looking at a future that’s unpredictable, but painting a different set of futures that could play out. Whereas forecasting is much more of a future that is predictable.

Lance Mortlock  23:39

These things do exist together. And I think integration between those different things is very important. The other thing that I would say, and I talk about this in the book is there are different levels of thinking about planning. You start with a strategic plan, you then get into the business plan, the budget, the forecast performance management, and these things need to be tightly integrated in corporations, particularly in large corporate companies. I think scenario planning really inserts itself at the top of the house where it informs your strategic plan. It informs your business plan so that you’re more nimble and flexible and prepared for a world that’s complex and uncertain.

Stephanie Knight  24:29

And as you said, you go into detail about each of these roles. The scenario planner, the role the CEO has to play in successful scenario planning, the role that the CSO has to play, and each of which I think are very robust descriptions, very three dimensional set of roles and responsibilities that these people need to kind of lean into. So you’ve got for the scenario planner that they need to be the researcher and the facilitator and a presenter and a writer, the coordinator.

Stephanie Knight  25:06

For an organization wanting to move forward in this way, where do you think that they pull that type of person from within their organization?

Lance Mortlock  25:21

I think you’re looking for someone probably from your strategy function. I think you’re looking for someone that’s naturally curious, is interested in research, is analytical in their mindset, and wants to solve problems. And those people can exist in lots of different pockets in the organization where you can pull them out from and be successful in that role. I think a lot of people that are in the business analyst role can evolve to the scenario planner role. That’s something that I’ve seen a lot of.

Lance Mortlock  26:02

I’ve also seen a lot of consultants that have been in consulting for 5 years, 10 years and said, I don’t want to do it any more, I want a bit more regularity in my life and ready for a change. And then they flip into industry and play a scenario planner role and are very successful in that role as well. So that’s also another possibility.

Stephanie Knight  26:28

What are the first steps that you would recommend a business to take if they’re intrigued by just the general thought of introducing more scenario planning aspects in their organization?

Lance Mortlock  26:40

Well, the first step is buying my book.

Stephanie Knight  26:42

Absolutely, yes! (chuckles)

Lance Mortlock  26:43

So buy the book, read the book. And then once you’ve got through that, I think the first couple of steps is really defining the problem that you want to solve and identifying the stakeholders that you want to engage in that process.

Lance Mortlock  27:01

That second piece is often undervalued, but actually is very important. And the reason that I say that’s important is the importance of diversity. I think if you have diversity in the room, when you’re thinking about future or future scenarios, you get a lot more wide perspective. Because what this is about fundamentally is widening the river banks. And you can widen the river banks by having diversity in the room, either diversity of gender, diversity of experience, diversity of ethnic background. Eerybody brings something to the table that can contribute to the thinking, because this is about thinking, exploring possibilities about the way things can play out.

Lance Mortlock  27:46

I work with a big cementing company here in Canada. And one of the things that I encouraged them to do is, we were running a strategic off-site for two days, the top management team in the room, exploring the future, and what the strategy would look like. And as we were preparing for the session, I said, let’s bring in some of your customers to provide their perspective on this. Because the problem, if we just do this as a management team, is we’re going to be myopic in our approach.

Lance Mortlock  28:21

So we brought in a large customer, a medium customer, a small customer, because there’s diversity in the perspectives that they provide. And it was very, very powerful. We also had their Private Equity owner in the room as well. So I always try and encourage that on the projects that I’m on, thinking about who the different players that we can bring that will have a perspective.

Lance Mortlock  28:45

So once you figured out the problem, and you figured out what stakeholders you want to be involved, I think the second step that’s really important to get started with is exploring the environment. Doing the research to say what’s going on in the market, and the system that we operate in. And that can be a multi-month, multi-week process, or it can be a couple of days doing some Google searches and other things. And you can scale it up and down as you want. But to inform your scenarios, you have to explore the environment in a methodical structured way.

Stephanie Knight  29:25

And are you finding that this type of work is usually achievable within an organization to be able to do this discovery and evaluative work and to establish this new function? Or is it something that is often you know, even the lead of some of the new projects that you’re doing, is this a new service line for you in its entirety?

Lance Mortlock  29:54

Scenario planning has been around for a while. Military planners were using it on the battlefield in early history, World War Two and and subsequent to World War Two. I had the opportunity to work with Shell very early on in my career around integrated planning and scenario planning. So I feel very fortunate to have some of that experience.

Lance Mortlock  30:26

So it’s been around for a while, and I think different consulting firms have used it. What I’ve tried to do through the book is say, that’s all fine. But we’re not using it as much as we could, or we should be. I think we’ve experienced through Covid-19 a lot of uncertainty in the last 12 months. And so I’ve tried to refresh the approach to say, Hey, this is important. We need to be taking this more seriously. I’ve also introduced some new concepts, around using scenarios at different levels of the organization, either kind of macro global issues, to industry issues, to company issues, to business unit and functional issues, how it scales up and down.

Lance Mortlock  31:19

I’ve tried to introduce new concepts like that. And I’ve also spent quite a bit of time researching and introducing the idea of Artificial Intelligence as really an enabler of scenario thinking, which there’s very little research on that. And that, to me, is the next frontier, which is why I say that on the front cover of the book and dedicate a chapter to it. So there’s a bit of refreshing the old, and then there’s a bit of exploring the new.

Stephanie Knight  31:49

There’s quite a bit of real estate in the book about the impact of AI in this process. Talk to us a little bit more about why you decided to put that lens on things.

Lance Mortlock  32:03

There’s a couple of reasons. One, I think, you know, there’s this famous saying from IBM, which is: we create more data in the last two years than we did in the rest of history combined. It’s frightening when you think about it, how much data exists in the world. How do we process this data? What does it mean? What are the risks? What are the insights? What are the threats? What are the opportunities?

Lance Mortlock  32:28

And so one of the things that I explore in the book is the use of natural language processing, an AI tool to say there are tools out there that can help us scrub this data and draw out the insights. And those insights can inform our scenarios and our strategic thinking in ways that we’ve never done before. And I think that, as strategists, we need to take that way more seriously and integrate into our projects the use of technology like never before.

Lance Mortlock  33:01

And all the big firms have very smart artificial intelligence business analytics, advanced analytics, machine learning, natural language processing, RPA experts. And I think the strategy folks and the technology folks need to work more closely together in firms in the future to help our clients leverage this new technology for the most strategic processes and discussions that need to happen in companies.

Stephanie Knight  33:36

Absolutely. As we start to wrap up, is there anything else that you want to share about the content or the creation of this book?

Lance Mortlock  33:46

One of the things that I had a lot of fun thinking about as I was researching the book was, what’s particularly interesting for me is this notion that change is constant. And leaders and organizations are dealing with a myriad of challenges all the time and how we have these periods of relative calm and stability that are inevitably interrupted by periods of massive shocks and disruptions.

Lance Mortlock  34:20

This is this notion of recurring pattern of every decade or so where something significant happens. We go back to the economic crisis in 2008, the dot com bubble in 2000, the tequila crisis, the Latin American sovereign debt crisis, the OPEC crisis, it keeps happening. And we keep being surprised that it happens. It just happened. And so what I’m advocating for very strongly is, companies need to be prepared for this and I think, you know, the concepts that I talk about in the book help companies prepare for that cycle of boom and bust. Because it’s the opportunity and the upside, but it’s also the disruption and the downside.

Lance Mortlock  35:11

And so I would sum up by saying that organizations need to develop shock absorbers, think through options, both good and bad, and need to be able to see around the corner and understand what could happen next. And I’m trying to convey in the book that if you reflect, if you learn, prepare, focus, seek the best opportunities, and wisely invest using the tools that I advocate for, I think you create an organization that is more resilient, more open, more innovative, more creative, curious, and ready for change. And I think consultants and advisors play a role in that process with management teams. And it’s a very exciting prospect to work on in the future. And frankly, I plan on doing more of this in the next couple of years.

Stephanie Knight  36:12

Absolutely. Creating companies that some may say are disaster proof. Right? So again, the book is Disaster proof: scenario planning for a post-pandemic future. Lance. It’s been a pleasure to speak with you, learn more about you, and hear about your book. Thanks for joining us today.

Lance Mortlock  36:29

Thank you for having me. It’s been a pleasure.

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