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To Plan or not to Plan: Building Adaptability and Business Resilience in a New Era

May 11, 2022

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Who could have known the world would experience two black swan events in as many years? If the last few years have taught us anything, it’s that change is the new normal, and it’s changing all the time.

From communication methods and technology changing how we work, to geopolitical issues and global supply chain challenges, the world seems to be getting smaller and bigger at the same time.

Knowing what you need but acting on what is available. For now.

On one hand, we’re seeing businesses wanting to stay ahead of their peers in this new landscape. From evolving demands and talent densities on the move, to the rapid pace information and narratives travel and shift; more and more businesses are on the lookout for transferable skills—especially in their senior leadership. They are also trying to uncover when and where to diverge capabilities (to build deeper specialisms) and when to collapse them (for great efficiencies).

On the other hand, it’s never been timelier to be an expert leader in connecting both local and international affairs. It’s no longer good enough to just be the domain expert of your own backyard; you need to know what’s happening next door, down the road, and the next suburb over. And if the last 3 years has taught us anything, it’s that we’re all interconnected (nay, hyper-connected), and highly dependent on each other more than we have previously thought. The challenge is then how do we connect the dots on a global level when the dots become posts that are constantly shifting?

To plan or not to plan. That is the answer.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Meta, has been attributed to saying:

The reason I don’t have a plan is because if I have a plan I’m limited to today’s options…

This reminded me of a programme lead I worked with a couple years back. During an operational planning meeting to ramp up growth in Asia Pacific, this very senior and seasoned programme lead looked us dead in the eyes as we were scoping out possible scenarios and plausible outcomes, and said, completely deadpan:

“There is only a Plan A.”

We were silent for a moment, and then asked, “what about a Plan B?”

“There is only a Plan A.”

“What if it doesn’t work out?”

“I will make Plan A happen. If not, I have failed.”

First, let me put this in context, we were NEVER in a life-or-death situation. We were in marketing , and we certainly weren’t curing a life-threatening disease. And yet to her, Plan A was the only plan, and she was going to make it work, on schedule, or see herself as having failed.

Be a pathfinder by building a resilient but flexible mindset.

We’re seeing the two extreme approaches to organisational strategy and planning. We could do a Sandberg, throw plans out the window and try to enjoy the ride—hoping we end up like Meta* and not MySpace. Or we could forge ahead like my old programme lead, now a good friend, refusing to notice the scenery shifting and wondering how we ended up with frostbite in Antarctica when we had planned for a tropical vacation in Bali.

It took some time, some days, and a couple of out-of-office distractions, to walk my former programme lead back from the edge, and we finally landed on a couple of insights:

  • Plan A is great, but so is Plan B through to Z, if and when it is needed. (Ok, maybe don’t over engineer more than what is needed, but keep the door open for the rest of the alphabets)
  • Moving a deadline isn’t a failure point, you’re just taking into consideration new information
  •  Things are going to change, and we don’t know what we don’t know
 Always lead with a people-first approach.

It’s also important to consider the personal and mental toll of having no plan—or only one rigid plan, and how we set ourselves and each other up for success. This colleague of mine was putting an unimaginable amount of stress on herself and benefited greatly from having a team to help her manage and navigate out of that situation. It comes down to (and this is by no means exhaustive):

  1. Knowing what your team are great at doing and where you’re heading,
  2. Understanding what the landscape is asking for and uncovering what is available to you,
  3. Putting down checkpoints along the way to ensure you and the business aren’t going off-course, and finally
  4. Give yourself permission to consider new options and alternatives when they arrive

Ultimately, as countless philosophers and thinkers—from Confucius to Aesop—have advised, it is not about how good or great your plans are, but how well you adapt to situations and chaos, and act accordingly:

The green reed which bends in the wind is stronger than the mighty oak which breaks in a storm.

We’re still riding out the storm, and we can do this together.

The views and opinions in these articles are solely of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of Teneo. They are offered to stimulate thought and discussion and not as legal, financial, accounting, tax or other professional advice or counsel.

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