Plan B for 2014: Your Antidote to Reality’s Punch

Reality Punch

You say you don’t have time to plan ahead. You’re overloaded. Have too much to do to launch 2014. Let’s take a look at the results that can happen when an organization doesn’t consider all the options and plunges forward without a Plan B in case of disruption. Key excuses for neglecting to plan ahead1:

1. No time.

You remember the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico? Containment took twice as long as expected–4 million barrels of oil were released. The cost to BP by the end of 2010? $17.7 billion, a 29 percent drop in its stock price2 and a tremendous hit to the company’s reputation. Certainly the company had a basic operating plan—a working theory—about what needed to be done to achieve the desired results. But when the initial plan went dramatically off course, what then?

 2. Why plan when things change so fast?

If you don’t know where you are now–don’t have a baseline– how can you be fully aware of best strategy to pursue when tossed by threatening circumstances? In turbulent times it’s even more important to know True North, so you can rise with the tide, not drowned.

Certainly elements of the automotive industry have repositioned to blaze ahead until they hit a speed bump. Between Oct. 2009 and March 2010, Toyota recalled 8.5 million vehicles.  A dealer improperly installed all-weather floor mats from an SUV into a loaned Lexus sedan. As a result the vehicle’s accelerator stuck on the mat, causing a tragic, fatal accident. In addition to the loss of life, this incident cost Toyota well over $2 billion in repairs, recalls and lost sales.3

While nonprofits and agencies might not place themselves in the same situation as the auto industry, they can relate to the lingering impact of the 2013 Sequester on businesses in Washington area–pointing to the need for a Plan B to cushion against future challenges.

 3. We get paid for results, not planning.

This focus on doing—tactics— can provide the satisfaction that activity can bring without providing true results. When spending money to research long-term goals is seen as nonessential, how does an organization know whether it’s selecting the right path? What is the baseline—the starting point—from which progress is assessed? How do you know when a project is in need of a course correction?

4. We’re doing OK without a plan.

Without a contingency plan, how can you set a course if the company suffers a dramatic setback? What if you lose major funding? What if despite your financial checks and balances you find serious discrepancies? What if a leader dies or leaves unexpectedly?

In the Enron fiasco, top executives were selling their own stock while assuring employees that the company was not losing value. Employees lost their retirement nest eggs in addition to the severe financial setbacks for the company, their industry and the public they served.  Bankruptcy proceedings revealed losses of $13.1 billion for the parent company and $18.1 billion for the affiliates. Thousands of people in Houston, the energy hub, and elsewhere lost their jobs.4

If you think about the “horrible what ifs” that could make life miserable in the year ahead, taking time now makes more sense and it will prepare you and your team to roll over the unexpected reality punches ahead. You’ll have a path to center your communications program as you set a course for 2014.

1 Cutlip & Center’s Effective Public Relations, pp. 266

2 Ibid. p. 344

3 Ibid.p. 344

4 “The Fall of Enron,” Bloomberg Businessweek, Dec. 16, 2001.

To read more:  Jeffrey Liker, “The Toyota Recall: What Have We Learned” The HBR Blog Network

(Feb 11, 2011), http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/02/toyotas-recall-crisis-full-of.html (accessed Aug 2, 2011)

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About marmietedwards

Split personality between journalism and history. Read Sandburg's Lincoln at 11 and visited Gettysburg at 12. Through work and travel have enjoyed the people, sites, and artwork in 46 states. Optimism runs through me.

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