Why Plan in such Unpredictable Economic Times?
Every morning, my day starts with coffee and the news which as of late has become nearly myopic at its focus on the economy, its poor state, and the unpredictability of “what’s next.” So I, spending so much brain-CPU on planning in my job, can’t help but wonder, “What’s the point?”
The “universe” of outcomes we had to plan for previously included, “What if demand is 20% higher than we think?”, “What if we have a major storm?”, and “What if we have to go contractors for an additional 5% of our work?” But things have changed….
Now the “universe” of outcomes includes things like, “What if our service budget buys capacity for 60% of the work?”, “What if our largest competitor closes shop?”, and “What if we have layoffs and need to outsource much more of our work?” My challenge isn’t that all of the possibilities are bad, because they are not. Actually, for many companies there are as many opportunities as there are problems depending on perspective.
My challenge is the volatility and unpredictability. Having thought further however, I recognize that now i s the MOST important time to plan. As we often quote Dwight Eisenhower, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable.” Neither the volatility nor the unpredictability changes the act of planning, or its value.
The future never has been predictable, which means that the purpose of planning has always, and continues to be to ‘rehearse’ decisions, understand the impacts, and derive the best course of action. For the near-term, these decisions are delivered with confidence. For the longer-term, the decisions provide consistent guidance with an expectation that plans may change.
Long-term or near-term, plans spread consistent expectations to the entire operation. And for those surprises to come, economic and otherwise; planning enables us to minimize the cost of bad news, and maximize the value of opportunities – because we thought about it ahead of time.
So plan away my friends! And when someone asks you how you can do any effective planning in today’s business climate, just ask them if they change whether they “look before they leap” based on whether they are leaping into a good, bad, or predictable place. It doesn’t matter so much what you are planning for, but just that you are planning at all…