Recently, I met with the top executives of a Fortune 100 company. During traditional times, you can probably imagine that being an executive of such a sizable company does not allow you much free time during the day. Now imagine trying to get one of these executives to devote an entire day to stepping back and examining what I call "The New Big Picture" and the rapidly emerging risks and opportunities associated with seeing it.
During the Coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdown, we heard the term "new normal" pretty frequently, though what most companies realized during the crisis was that when it first hit, many weren't thinking that a global shutdown could possibly happen, so when it did, they were truthfully caught "not thinking."
Oftentimes, as mentioned above, companies are too busy to think strategically about future risk and opportunity that come with everyday operations. Now we have lived through a moment in history when future risk involves a much more dangerous situation for companies and organizations alike: another potential lockdown or the resurgence of a worldwide virus.
The Danger of Complacency
Being "too busy to think" is not a good thing; it gets us into trouble more times than not, no matter if you are a mom-and-pop shop or the owner of a worldwide corporation.
It seems that clients I've met with both in the past and ones I meet with now weren't thinking about how out of hand future risk could possibly get when entering the new year and new decade of 2020. With a booming economy and stock market seemingly on a constant rise, what could possibly go wrong? They became more complacent than ever before.
Then, after COVID-19 arrived in the United States, not having a detailed action plan for how these companies were going to navigate a total shutdown of nonessential business spiraled into mass layoffs, unemployment and, for many, total loss of profit. Finding a way to pivot and having an emergency contingency plan for operations would've helped greatly, as it did for several companies that did have a plan.
Big or Small, You Must Have a Contingency Plan
Smaller companies and small businesses around the world that faced the same problem of a sudden shutdown were also not thinking, both financially and operationally. For example, I had heard from a handful of smaller business owners seeking advice in the early stages of the shutdown, as they were cutting it close in cash flow every month as it was just to keep their business open.
Prior to COVID-19, they spent frivolously on amenities that perhaps weren't needed as much as a contingency plan of their own, believing that nothing could possibly stop the growth of the country as the new year began. So, when a government-mandated shutdown was imposed, many startups closed their doors for good while the media then blamed the pandemic for the failure of so many businesses. But was that really what happened?
In the case of the small business owners spending a lot of cash on unnecessary luxury items, wouldn't it have been beneficial to have at least a year's worth of operating expenses in its reserves to plan for anything, let alone a total shutdown?
The answer is yes; not thinking of the possibility that the absolute worst could happen is frivolous in and of itself, let alone spending yourself so thin that any upset in the status quo shuts you down permanently. Thinking is part of being anticipatory, and you do so by paying attention to both the Hard Trends and Soft Trends shaping the world around you.
Don't Focus on the Wrong Problem
Despite business owners looking at either their workforce or their dwindling savings, many still continued to focus on the wrong problem.
As much as it stings to say, the real problem was themselves. While in business, it is a certainty that you need to take risks, but poorly calculated and frivolous risks, whether it's spending on unnecessary items that don't increase value in your business operation or hiring too many employees who would be the first to go in a crisis, are detrimental to your operation.
The business world, no matter what industry you find yourself in, will find itself very busy yet again as we work to rebuild in the post-pandemic "new normal" and possible downturn of the economy; however, this is our chance to make sure we take the time to think about the risks and the opportunities, the present and the future, before we act with blind optimism.
Becoming an Anticipatory Leader is key, both now and in the future, so be sure to always think before you do, pay attention to the Hard Trends and Soft Trends that influence and shape both your industry and ones around you, and pre-solve problems before they occur.
If the Coronavirus taught us anything, it is that anything can happen. I encourage you to take time now and become an Anticipatory Leader so you are not caught off guard again.