Dear Tim... “Do you have a plan?”
“I always have a plan.”
Armageddon Freezer. That’s our nickname for my mother-in-law’s basement freezer (truly a thing here in the Midwest, by the way). Should calamity strike, there’s enough pork sausage and strawberry jam in there to feed you all. I can think of no rational reason why anyone over 50 years old has that much of a food stockpile. For any reason. Ever. But my mother-in-law, she has a plan.
Do you have a plan? Have you thought through what happens when that next big brand launch fizzles? When your ace designer suddenly decides Broadway is calling? When the CPSC inquires about an ‘issue?’
A number of years ago, I was having dinner with a future employer, the company’s CEO. He asked several seemingly random questions about a wide variety of strategic and human resources options, and, befuddled by his apparent lack of clarity, I asked ‘do you have a plan?’ He stopped, smiled, and said, ‘I always have a plan.’ And true to his word, over the next several months and years, I watched (and eventually helped) as he rolled that plan out. Every dot connected. Every move made sense.
But in the middle of that rollout, chaos occasionally ensued. Brand launches went awry. Key leaders resigned. Products were recalled.
Our business contingency planning dictated where and how we would ramp up other aspects of our business, as well as how we would realign or reduce spending to account for an ‘unplanned’ decline in brand sales. Our talent management and succession planning would help us determine the best path forward when we faced an unexpected loss of skilled leadership. And our operations, quality and safety, and communications plans all kicked in when we faced particularly daunting issues like recalls. Every team had done the unsexy but essential work of wargaming out possible challenges – and talking through what they do in those situations. And woe be to the team who hadn’t done at least a little work looking into the crystal ball – the ones who weren’t ready were indeed the weak link in our ‘planning chain.’ That usually only happened once.
As it turns out, we all (the whole world, not just our industry) have spent the last year in a crash course on contingency planning. Covid, that coughing black swan of 2020, not only forced us all to whip out our emergency plans, it drove us to write entirely new ones. If a sweeping global pandemic didn’t jolt you and your company out of complacency, I fear for you.
Every day, something pops up that makes me look over to my list of options and backups. In most instances, it turns out to be an unnecessary exercise. But the fact that I have the list at all – that I’m prepared – is sometimes comfort enough.
And in the meantime, if you are short on strawberry jam, you know who to call.