Plan - and then have another plan for the unexpected!

Caroline Williams, Chief Executive, Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

Don’t panic! I’m not about to go back over the result, or implications, of the recent election result in the USA, nor am I going to take you back to BREXIT nor the recent Devolution vote. But, all these topics are uppermost in my mind as I write this column.

Let me leave aside the politics of these events. Your views on Trump and Clinton, ‘leave’ or ‘remain’, or Devolution ‘for’ or ‘against’ are not the issues here. My point is this. It’s fair to say that even passionate advocates of the winning sides in the two former of these campaigns were surprised at the outcomes. The ‘losers’ were of course shattered.

More importantly, in a way, the pollsters and media pundits were surprised. Or, to put it bluntly, in many cases they, the ‘experts’ were just plain wrong.

And that’s perhaps one of the most important lessons businesses can learn from recent events. The fact is that sometimes, despite all the planning, all the research, all the soundings you take from your market, things do not go as you thought they would.  The unexpected happens.

In theory, with our ever more sophisticated techniques of analysis and forecasting, the unexpected should happen less and less. And yet, within the same year, two massive events have delivered it. With seismic impact.

There’s another point that’s directly related to both BREXIT and the USA election. Both results have revealed, justified or not remains to be seen, a strong suspicion that the UK Government who sort of ‘lost’ and the Trump team who, well, won, don’t have a clear plan for what to do next. And that’s what’s making people lack confidence about the future.

So, if your business plan swerves off course because the unexpected happens and you do not take action, you’re going to lose the confidence of staff, customers and shareholders - which is recipe for disaster at any time, let alone in these unpredictable days.

The answer? No easy answer but what I do have is the knowledge gained from 2016, that having a plan is necessary. Having an outline at least for what you do in the event of the totally unexpected is absolutely essential.

How do you write such an emergency plan? It might be a good idea to look at your business strategy, then turn it on its head and set down the tactics you’d employ in those circumstances.

Or, look at your list of goals, and then write the plan for how you would operate if none of them came to fruition.

Interestingly of course you might just find that such an exercise produces some lateral and innovative thinking that can be fed into your planning anyway.

2016 has certainly thrown up some unexpected twists and turns, and they should make us think. Consider this piece of wisdom - ‘To expect the unexpected shows a thoroughly modern intellect’.

That was Oscar Wilde - in the 19th century!

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