“No plan survives first contact with the enemy.”
Glen Daly, a most popular speaker on our roster, who brilliantly distills business theory into specific actions, suggested to one of our Mastermind Groups last week that “all strategy is hypothesis.”
His point struck a chord, as all too often when a plan goes awry, I observe business leaders pointing the finger of blame at execution without even stopping for a moment to consider if the strategy is flawed. Your strategy is your best guess at what’s needed for long term success – hopefully you’ll get it right more often than not, but what if you don’t?
At this time of year most of us start the annual guessing game. What will happen to the market next year? Will house prices change? How many people will move on our patch? Add into the pot some extras for 2019 such as: What will the Brexit impact be? How and when will the tenant fee ban affect us? Will the new models expand further? These and many more questions will guide our thinking towards the creation of the business plan. And despite there being more variables and permutations than in an average game of chess, many business owners and managers will then set their plan in stone and seek to align the team to achieving it.
To paraphrase my second most favourite Prussian General, Helmuth von Moltke the Elder, “no plan survives first contact with the enemy,” and consequently no plan will be executed perfectly, or even get close in many cases. But Glen showed us one way you can improve the chances of creating a plan that has a better chance of being broadly right than most.
It’s very simple – instead of only asking “how can we make the plan work?” ask another question: “why is this plan not going to work?”
When you create your next plan I suggest you pause from being an artist and instead adopt a scientific approach. In most laboratories, scientists seek to disprove a theory as much, if not more than to show that it’s right. I suggest you do the same and that by doing so with real rigour and purpose you’ll end up with a far better plan than the one you started with. The big law firms do this all the time. They will create two teams – one to act for the client and the other taking the position of the opponent and seek to anticipate what their actions might be. You can do similarly – divide your leadership team into two groups and have one make the case for the plan and the other against it. I suggest your plan will be much better for it.
When engaging with your “enemy” (which metaphorically includes your customers and team as well as your competitors), the flaws in your plan will be exposed, but you’ll be better placed to adapt and to refine it ensuring you’re still headed in the right direction…which is about as much as any plan can hope to achieve.
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