By Dave Sullivan (Shamrock Group, Inc.)
It’s a new world and few of us saw it coming. None of us had experienced a global downturn like this before. Businesses stopped functioning effectively and temporary paralysis set in. Unfortunately, two years later, it seems too many businesses are still waiting for the antidote to counteract this paralysis so they can get moving again.
It would be unfair to say nothing is being done. Some businesses are improvising. They are falling back on past practices and experiences to navigate their businesses through these turbulent times – hoping and praying things will get back to normal. This time, that may not be good enough! By definition, improvisation is a stop-gap measure employed until a real solution is found. It helps alleviate short-term pain, but it does not ensure long-term viability or a return to prosperity. It just lets us survive a little longer. That brings me to the point of this article.
Planning is only a stop-gap measure – not a solution.
As a strategy consultant, how can I say that? Planning is a process of addressing pre-defined issues, challenges, and practices, so we can employ resources efficiently. In this environment, there are few pre-defined issues and planning just doesn’t go far enough. We need an integrated perspective of our overall businesses to sustain them. We must think more – not just act. We must consider the whole – not just the parts. We must focus on the important – not just the urgent. Peter Drucker once said “there is nothing quite as useless as doing, with great efficiency, what should not be done at all.”
In rethinking my business, I have come to two rather unique conclusions:
1. There is no such thing as a recession – just a different operating environment!
2. There is no such thing as a normal business environment!
Recession is more of an economist’s term than a business term. Ezra Solomon, a Stanford Economics professor said, “The only function of economic forecasting is to make meteorology look respectable.” It denotes a fall in the GDP for two consecutive quarters and it provides some warning of a different environment to come. I have had great years during recessions and sub-standard years in boom periods. It all depended on the industry and markets I served. The economy boomed in the late 90’s if you were in the “service” sector. However, if you manufactured something, distributed something or installed something, you struggled – but you kept moving and you are still operating.
By definition, “normal” assumes a controlled environment. Externally, it is an environment unaffected by customer demands, competitor actions, economic shifts, regulations, or technology; and internally, it is unaffected by changes in competency and how we deploy resources. I've never experienced normal! My bias is that normal is nothing more than a myth created by people too busy, or too unwilling, to deal with changing reality.
To remain viable, I challenge you to use planning to do more than just ease short-term pain. I encourage you to strategically manage your entire enterprise. Think forward and outward, not inward and backwards, and consider the following questions: What is your business? Is your purpose clear? What do you intend to accomplish? What factors will have the biggest impact on your business? What is it you do well that matters?
Granted, these are tough questions to address and require a considerable investment of time for thoughtful analysis and a deep understanding of what it takes to succeed, but the payoff is enormous – the ability to control your business in new environments, value creation for the business, and a return to prosperity.
(reprinted with permission from Aileron)