Contingencies — Why Plan B Might Be the Most Important Part of Your Strategy

TAGS: creating a plan, Michael Speidel, strategy, goal setting, success

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Regardless of your profession, athletic endeavor, or family life, planning and strategy when working toward a goal are of tremendous importance. You can’t become the best hardware store in a major metropolitan area without a strategy, just like you can’t legitimately compete in a strongman event without some kind of a plan. As Dr. Stephen Covey once said, "Everything is created twice.” You can’t build a house without a blueprint and you certainly can’t achieve great things without plotting a viable course towards your goal.


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There has been a tremendous amount of writing done regarding the importance of strategy and goal setting, much of which has been both excellent and inspiring. I enjoy reading about businesses and individuals setting lofty goals and relentlessly chasing after great achievements. It gives those of us who appreciate and want to emulate their accomplishments an idea of what it takes to succeed, and it gives us a rough framework of the steps we might need to take to see similar successes. However, despite all of the good literature out there regarding strategy and goal setting, I don’t see a significant amount of time spent on Plan B formation or contingency development. We certainly hear about the hardships and adversities that our heroes go through and the iron will that it took to see their plan through. What we don’t often hear about is how many times conditions drastically changed, to the point that no amount of discipline or willpower could achieve the goal. For whatever reason, the goal becomes beyond our reach and a completely new course needs to be plotted. I have the opinion that if more time was spent going through the mental exercise of asking yourself, "if this happens, what will I do?", then we would see far fewer businesses fail and far fewer individuals swallowed up in the throes of victimhood.

In his excellent book Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink explains that in every plan “the enemy ALWAYS gets a vote.” This is a reality that we all must understand and anticipate whenever we sit down and write out a strategy. Seldom does a strategy go according to plan. There are always variables that exist far outside our span of control, and we must train ourselves to adopt the flexibility needed to adapt and change course quickly. If you are a contractor whose survival relies on one organization for 90% of your income, have you thought about what you will do if they go out of business? If you are a professional athlete, do you have a backup plan on how you will survive after a catastrophic injury? If you are a young executive who is hoping to be a VP by the time you are 30, have you contemplated the potential of your position being eliminated during a merger or acquisition? These aren’t exciting things to talk or think about; however, as painful as it might be to ponder our actions in the event that the rug is pulled out from underneath our feet, it pales in comparison to the pain of not having a viable Plan B when life happens.

Here are a couple of things to think about:

Identify who your success is dependent upon. 

Success is never obtained without key relationships. However, these relationships can also be looked upon as potential vulnerabilities and can have catastrophic effects on you if they suddenly deteriorate. For example, if you are in retail and you have one supplier who you rely on for the majority of your products, it would be very smart to shop around to see what other vendors have to offer. Not only will it help you identify viable partners that you could turn to if you primary supplier stops delivering, but it also validates whether or not your current supplier’s service and pricing are comparable to others. You might continue to use the supplier in the same capacity, but you have taken a huge step towards mitigating the risk caused by a service failure.

Identify what your success is dependent upon.

Cultural trends, the economy, regulations, the demographics of your customer base — major swings in any of these areas can drastically impact us all. Are you specialized in a certain discipline or technology that can become obsolete over the next twelve months? Are you involved in an industry that is dependent upon the buying habits of a specific demographic? We must always identify the environment we operate in and carefully evaluate what has to go right in order for us to be successful. If you are ultra-specialized in a certain form of technology, then it would probably be a good idea to diversify your expertise and learn other specialties. When you are beholden to a certain demographic, you must increase your customer engagement to identify subtle changes in their buying habits so that you can be prepared to meet their needs when their preferences shift. Being tuned into your environment and creating the agility to quickly adjust to changes allows for success to be had during both feast and famine.

Always remember that problems are normal. 

Nothing ever stays the same. It is normal for problems and setbacks to occur. Changes beyond your control will happen, and Spencer Johnson’s proverbial “cheese” will almost always be moved. I always tell my leadership team and department directors that what identifies us as professionals is our ability to anticipate and calmly respond to the vast array of problems that we might face. Adopting the mindset that things are never as good as they seem or as bad as they seem goes far to adopt the maturity and clear-headedness required to navigate our complicated and ever-changing environments. Changes, challenges, and complications are a normal part of doing business and living life; therefore, we must expect them.

I wrote my first article for elitefts in February of 2010. Its title was Small Business Survival 101and much of the content was centered on studying and adapting to your given working environment. I had stated that a mentor of mine once told me that survival in business is largely dependent upon the paranoia of its leader or owner. While the scope of this article paints in wider brush strokes than just small businesses, it does capture the essence of the broader point. When you are constructing a plan or strategy, spend time mentally working through anticipated challenges so that you aren’t starting from ground zero when they present themselves. It will take some of the scariness out of the unknown and could very well ensure your survival.

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