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Planning for a bad day is a good way to plan for a better day

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Imagine that you walk into the second half of your annual planning session, ready and excited to discuss how you and your colleagues are going to finalize the plan and make next year the best year ever for your organization. Your leader walks into the room and says, “I am sorry to tell you that the plan we crafted last week has failed spectacularly.”

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Imagine that you walk into the second half of your annual planning session, ready and excited to discuss how you and your colleagues are going to finalize the plan and make next year the best year ever for your organization. Your leader walks into the room and says, “I am sorry to tell you that the plan we crafted last week has failed spectacularly.”

After the stunned silence, the leader says, “We need to find out what went wrong. Then we can prepare for any eventuality.” The real work is to craft a plan that will be able to withstand various potential negative impacts, identify gaps in the original plan, and even consider some bizarre negative events that may or may not be realistic.

You are now a participant in a pre-mortem. This is a business term that is used in planning to identify risks at the outset, so that mitigation strategies can be discussed in advance of any real negative event that may occur. There is a substantial benefit to performing a pre-mortem, where using prospective hindsight — imagining that an event has already occurred — increases the ability to correctly identify reasons for future outcomes. Given that many plans fail in their execution because of an inability to react properly to changing or negative events, this should be a widely used tool.

Sadly, it is not.

During my CFL playing days, we always ran situational specific sessions during practice to simulate potential game scenarios, especially challenging ones. We would have our offence run a series of plays based on the game score, time left in the match, and position on the field. At the same time, our defensive personnel would use the same situational information to counter the offence. Either the offence would succeed, or the defence would stop them. And there were many other scenarios we evaluated in the same way.

This approach allowed us to assess our individual abilities on exceptional situations and also test our game plan to see where it was solid and where there might be gaps. And we would either make an adjustment on the spot or after practice, so that we were ready for the next day’s practice session and the upcoming game. For your winning game plan, thinking of all the possible “what if” scenarios can help you compete much more effectively.

One section of the strategic planning course I teach discusses competitive dynamics. This is the assessment of how competitors will react to different actions taken by other companies in their industry. For example, these actions can be a major price cut, a merger or acquisition, or other major initiatives.

I believe it is only when you consider what can go wrong, that you can adequately be prepared for it, should it actually occur. So often, organizational leadership believes they know what is happening in their industry and are shocked when something out of the ordinary occurs.

To help guide your pre-mortem process, here are three important reminders you can use at your next planning session. First, when you consider the conditions/situations that could derail your plan, every member of the planning group must write down all the reasons they can. Any reason. Do not self-edit and think, “no, this could never happen.” Because it can happen when you really think about it. No elephants can be left in your room!

Second, all the ideas generated, need to be assembled for review and discussion. This exercise can provide an opportunity for less-vocal team members to contribute any concerns they may have for the plan that they otherwise would be reluctant to share publicly for fear of ridicule. Each idea needs to be assessed for impact and the likelihood of occurring. Sometimes, ideas are generated that must be implemented immediately because they are valuable or correct a gap in the plan.

Third, prioritize the remainder of the ideas generated and assign them to small project teams for further evaluation and recommendation on what to do, if anything. If you use teams of three and ensure there is dedicated time to review the ideas in small batches, you can gain good insights in as little as two weeks. Be prepared to commit the resources to doing this work and you will have a more robust plan and employees that are more aware of what is necessary to succeed.

Tim’s bits: Despite leaders’ good intentions, they often fall prey to biases that get in the way of good decision making. Ensuring alignment and understanding of potential “what ifs” during planning will help you create a resilient organization that can withstand major unforeseen events. Your winning game plan based on a pre-mortem will give you a better chance to have a positive post-mortem when evaluating the success of your actions.

Tim Kist is a Certified Management Consultant, authorized by law, and a Fellow of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants of Manitoba.

tim@tk3consulting.ca

Tim Kist

Tim Kist
Columnist

Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.

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