In a business world where sports-related quotes and clichés have become ubiquitous, and perhaps overused, I recently read a quote written on a leader’s white board that said “don’t mistake activity with achievement” (John Wooden). After contemplating it for a few moments, and agreeing with its essence in today’s results-first world, I wrote my favorite, and believe more relevant, sports quote right above it: “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth” (Mike Tyson).
What I love about this quote is its relevance to so many areas of our existence and life experiences, none more than in the business world. Over the course of 26 years in the consumer packaged goods industry, I have been a part of hundreds of discussions about business planning and execution; and in each instance, the focus is unfailingly on optimism and stretch goals, and the associated costs to achieve those goals. The SWOT analysis is completed, risks are assessed, details are scrubbed, and numbers are rolled-up and ticked and tied; presentations are generated and senior leadership signs off. Ultimately, we plan hours upon hours with a singular focus on one thing: Success. Perhaps it’s counterintuitive to our human nature, but I’m convinced that the biggest miss in business planning today is the importance of “Planning for Failure”. What do you do and how do you react when plans don’t come to fruition, or when the customer says “no”? In the words of Mike Tyson, what do you do when you get punched in the mouth?
Planning for failure is nothing more than contingency planning, with the difference being in timing. It cannot wait until you get punched in the mouth in the form of plans unraveling or not coming to fruition. It must be ingrained in the process of annual plan development with the same effort, energy and focus that’s invested in planning for success, with predetermined triggers for execution without delay with little to no reactive behavior. This behavior would include deep dives into a never-ending cycle of “why?” or dialing-for-dollars, followed by another round of senior leadership approval.
Planning for failure shouldn’t be difficult. It just requires the realization that there’s no perfect plan and a discipline to the following:
1. Strategy – The planning process must define or build upon what it is that needs to be done.
2. Tactics – The “how” of the strategy. This cannot be confused with the “what” of the strategy.
a. This is the critical component of a contingency plan. The assessment of the market, the customer and the competitive environment should drive a sustainable strategy – “what” needs to be done. The tactics are the executional elements. They can and should vary based on the strategic imperatives.
b. The tactics should be built for both the primary plan and the contingency plan during plan development with a clear understanding, alignment and approval based on results.
3. Targets – Every plan must have a target. It’s often said that man cannot hit what he doesn’t aim at. Failing to monitor results of plans against targets, results in the danger of inertia and abject failure.
4. Triggers – Triggers must be aligned to the targets. In many ways, triggers can by synonymous with targets. The failure to hit a target within the predetermined time is the “trigger” to executing the contingency plan to get back to the primary plan.
Combined, this approach should act as a symbiotic relationship that eliminates churn and delivers consistent results.
The next time you get punched in the mouth, you can freeze with panic, or you can proactively implement and execute your contingency plan. It just starts with planning for failure.
*Director of Sales, Walmart – Bay Valley Foods
*Title and company of the author reflect their position at the time article was written.
The opinions expressed here by guest bloggers are their own, not necessarily those of Stout Executive Search.