There is an old expression that says: “You never get hit by the bus you see coming.” It’s the one that you don’t see coming that will nail you. When we do our planning, we tend to look at obvious events, factors, or problems, and develop our strategic and tactical plans for those situations. That’s fine. That’s what business planning and contingency planning are all about. The problem is that we tend to ignore those busses that we don’t see coming.
How many of us have plans for the plethora of situations that may be harmful to our organizations? Here are some examples of situations, events, and problems that CEOs and business managers fail to plan for:
- The loss of a key employee – What do you do if your best employee or best salesperson leaves abruptly?
- The loss of your biggest customer – What’s your plan if your biggest customer decides to go with the competition?
- A major lawsuit – What do you do if a disgruntled ex-employee files a lawsuit, or an unhappy customer decides to sue you for damages or recovery of costs?
- A new competitive offering that makes your product seem less attractive – When a competitor announces a new product that leapfrogs yours, all the market dynamics will change. What’s your reaction?
- New technology advances that shift the market – Companies are often hit by surprise when some new type of technology rolls out that makes their product obsolete. What’s your response to that?
- A major crisis (anyone remember the 1982 Chicago Tylenol poisoning case?) – Sometimes you can be cruising along, with everything seeming to go well, and then a devastating event occurs that throws your company into turmoil. How do you handle it?
- A new government regulation – Our beloved lawmakers, most of whom have no business experience, are always coming up with new onerous regulations that make it nearly impossible to continue to do business in the same way. What’s your plan?
Obviously, you can’t plan for every event, but you can plan on ways to handle various situations that might occur. For example, having a crisis management plan that can be pulled off the shelf and implemented when a crisis strikes is a great idea. Having a backup and replacement plan for key employee departures is also a good idea. Your HR department and management team should be ready to react in a sensible and methodical way when this happens (and it WILL happen).
But how do you plan for many of the other busses that might be coming? One of the best ways I have seen it done is to develop several key teams of people (if you are a smaller company, it might just be the management team) and have a regular, perhaps monthly, meeting that brainstorms possible detrimental events that could happen, and how you would respond to them. These events and your possible responses are written down as contingency and response plans, and used as soon as anything occurs that might trigger your response. They are reviewed annually to make sure they are updated for any new circumstances, and all of your managers are aware and informed about them.
Everyone has a Plan A, but how many companies have a Plan B, or even a Plan C? Don’t get hit by a bus you never saw coming.