It was Stephen Covey who said “if there’s one thing that’s certain about business, it’s uncertainty”.
Boy, have we learned that lesson over the past year. And now, as we approach the end of the financial year and possibly year end for many businesses, our thoughts turn to planning and forecasting.
It’s quite a natural response, even among seasoned business owners and leaders, to shy away from uncertainty. Often, plans choose a likely scenario and are then reviewed and tweaked as the months pass. However, in the pandemic-ridden world we now inhabit, it’s hard to ignore the uncertainty. It’s front and centre; far-reaching and it’s affecting absolutely everyone.
So, here are some ideas for how to get the most out of planning when uncertainty reigns.
1. What does success look like?
Success can mean all things to all people and there are many ways to measure it. When it comes to business planning during uncertainty, we can learn to think in ranges. Using “if this, then that” logic can help us to understand the varying degrees of success that are on the table.
Pivoting is a hideously overused word at the moment, but it’s been a necessary action for business wishing to survive the disruption of the pandemic. I’m hoping there aren’t any businesses out there who are still waiting for ‘normality’ to return: this isn’t an option we should even consider now. Instead, we need to equip our businesses and our people to be flexible, agile and to think outside the box when it comes to serving our customers’ needs.
A great way to focus on a range of success scenarios is to work with a small group of people – from within and outside of the business – who can bring different ideas and priorities to the table. You need to have as open and wide a discussion as possible to ensure true innovation in your planning.
2. Channel your creativity
Mind mapping is possibly the polar opposite to traditional business planning but, for that very reason, it comes into its own when we are trying to create some different for unusual times.
It involves making your business the central ‘theme’ and thinking of new and related ideas which radiate out from it. There are lots of apps to help with mind mapping but it’s probably still best tackled with a huge sheet of paper and your kids’ colouring pens. Part of this being a success requires you to tap into a more creative part of your brain so use images, colours and scribbles to get your thoughts down on paper.
The ‘rules’ of successful mind-mapping are simple: start at the centre, add your thoughts from the centre outwards, and use images, colour and text.
3. A plan is a great place to start
Something that’s important to consider is what we do with our plan once it’s created. Most important in today’s climate is to remember that it is not set in stone. We need to be comfortable with revisiting and tweaking our plans; evolving them as situations and knowledge change and grow.
Uncertainty is not a reason to avoid planning; rather it is a time to plan more frequently. There’s no right way but it is true to say that, when we are operating in uncertain circumstances, we have better control when we plan for shorter timescales. So, setting monthly, rather than annual goals could work well.
The only this that is certain as we start 2021, is that covid-19 has set in motion a cultural, technological, and economic revolution. Even now, while we are still operating in a degree of chaos, we cannot know what will arise that might affect the way we run our businesses in 2022 and beyond.
My advice, therefore, is to plan as best you can; dismiss nothing; consider everything; and review regularly.
It was the great Confucius who once said “choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.”
Loving what you do for a living seems to be everyone’s dream but then again, love is apparently blind. Business needs passion certainly, but we need to be careful to keep our feet on the ground.
Here, in celebration of the ‘month of love’, are some classic loving statements, interpreted from a business perspective.
1. “’Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all” Alfred, Lord Tennyson
There’s a lot of truth in this statement, especially when it comes to serial entrepreneurs. In fact, you could argue that we only truly learn from our mistakes
2. “To me, you are perfect” Love Actually
As a business owner, you should always be striving for growth and achieving this will mean getting out of your comfort zone. Never assume your work is done – there is always room for improvement.
3. “Everything I do, I do it for you” Bryan Adams
If you are looking in the mirror and saying this, you might need to do some leadership coaching. If you’re talking to your staff, you’re bang on. Valuing your people builds trust and respect and these are the currencies of successful business.
4. “A simple ‘I love you’ means more than money” Frank Sinatra
In business, not much means more than money when it comes down to it. However, a little passion, enthusiasm and drive go a long way.
5. “If you find someone you love in your life, then hang on to that person” Princess Diana
No matter how passionate you are about what you do for a living, you always need to plan for the day it’s no longer there. Exit strategies are one of the most commonly overlooked elements of a business plan and yet, if you’ve invested and want to make a return, they are the only way to realise that.
6. “Love yourself first and everything falls into line” Lucille Ball
There’s no doubt that, no matter how rose-coloured your glasses are, running a business is hard work and needs effort. Don’t let any of those hopeless romantics tell you any different!
7. “Love recognises no barriers” Maya Angelou
Maya is a favourite of mine and, while she speaks a lot of sense, a lack of barriers can be a very bad thing in business. It’s critical to stay focused when it comes to planning and growing otherwise you will be at risk of spreading yourself too thinly and failing to deliver.
8. “I love her and that’s the beginning and end of everything” F. Scott Fitzgerald
We all know that work and other aspects of life need to balance out somehow. Being too wrapped up in work can result in early burnout. And our brains cement learning when we have downtime so, if you’re keen to grow as a person too, it’s always good to have some time out of the office.
As with everything, a balance is always best. Being passionate about what you do means enthusiasm and positivity for your staff and clients. Love tends to be a little more open to interpretation. Maybe we should think of our business like a marriage – it will have ups and downs and sometimes the passion may wane, but to make it work, we should commit to it and always strive to make it feel valued.
Despite every day for almost a year feeling like it, did you know Tuesday 2nd February actually is Groundhog Day? Originally introduced to the US by German settlers, it’s the day when people wait for a sign as to whether winter will last another six weeks, or warmer weather will begin to return.
We might be forgiven for asking whether lockdown will last for another six weeks but, as business owners, do we really have the time to wait for anything?
One thing we can take for granted is that things will change. The question is how. It’s a dangerous game for a business to stay dormant, waiting for normality to return. Echoes of the infamous Eckhart Tolle concept of ‘evolve or die’ are ringing around the business world. Thankfully, many businesses have been able to move with the times and alter their delivery methods or even the products they manufacture.
Four things to consider as you evolve for success
Let’s not forget, adapting to change is nothing new for business as the conditions in which we operate rarely stay the same for long.
1. Always include change in your strategy
My first tip was inspired by Intel’s Andrew Grove statement that “only the paranoid survive”. That might sound a little extreme but the sentiment is sound: a business should always be checking for new developments and competition and then planning how to beat it and continue to grow. Make sure this is a conscious activity whenever you are strategizing for the future.
2. Take your people with you
Winning hearts and minds among your team is so important. In some ways it’s up there with winning business and that’s because these are the people who make things happen. If you create a barrier between your plans for the future and your people, you’re setting off on an uphill struggle. Set a strong culture of adventurous thinking and communicate it clearly to your people. Set them up for success and they will reward you with buy in and enthusiasm.
3. Bring in some new thinking
If you are a fast-growing business, it can sometimes be hard to accept you’re changing. What was once your baby, a precious and unique startup idea, suddenly starts to look a lot like a million other medium-sized businesses out there as more people, bureaucracy and process threaten to choke your agility. It always pays off to take a step back in these situations. As owner-operators, it’s hard to see the wood for the trees so ask a trusted, external source to join your brainstorming and help you to think more laterally.
4. Just say no
Perhaps this is controversial, but businesses need to get comfortable with saying no. Let’s assume you’ve struck out in a new direction as a response to the changes in the market and a client comes along wanting some of the old stuff they’ve always bought from you. You should only accept their business if the old stuff remains part of your strategy. Don’t be afraid to say no otherwise you risk becoming a hybrid of old and new.