If you, like me, follow LinkedIn, you’ll realise that there are a number of fashionable topics that come up on a regular basis. One is the need for empathy from leaders – I agree, and I’ll write about that topic in the future. The other is the need for resilience in business. Yes – resilience is a necessity in business, but I think it’s role very often needs to be put in perspective. I googled a definition – the best I found was ‘the ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity’. Recover from setbacks – yes, Adapt well to change – yes, but it’s the last bit I don’t like – every time I hear that phrase ‘keep going in the face of adversity’ I have a mental image of a long suffering businessperson, carrying on through all adversities, grimacing at the world rather than smiling, and surviving rather than enjoying their working day. Negative attitudes like that can facilitate failure, and certainly don’t lead to a successful business.
There is a better way! In my role as a business consultant, I focus on the strategy and vision for the growth of small and medium sized enterprises. I so often come back to the topic of planning – the need to have a clear destination in mind, the need to understand the route and challenges that lie ahead, and the need to be able to inspire your team to walk the same route. Every business should have a three year plan in place, but that plan should be one that can be interpreted into actions for this year, this week and TODAY. Without a long term plan, and without a plan for today, what you do daily can degenerate into a mindless routine of getting the job done and keeping the customer satisfied. Without a goal – the daily grind can seem just that – the daily grind. Having a higher goal and vision in place can help you see beyond that – the daily grind becomes manageable and worthwhile because there is something greater at the end of it.
I have a friend who cycled 2,500 kilometres along the Wild Atlantic Way last year. Doing something challenging like that in the changeable Irish climate requires emotional grit, determination and personal resilience. Buts its not all about resilience – I met her for a coffee when she had finished the journey, and asked her about her experiences. One thing she said stuck in my mind “I like to plan for the day, but I love to have options”. All business plans should be like that – we need a clear plan laid out ahead of us, but in real life, nothing ever really goes to plan, so we need to have options and choices built into the plan. If you can’t reach your target one way, try another. If you are not sure you are going to reach your destination today, have an optional, earlier stop built in.
In my daily work, I meet with a wide variety of business owners on a regular basis. I was talking with one such owner a few weeks ago about his plans for growth and expansion in 2022. He’s had a business for the last couple of years, but he knows that the business has fizzled, never sparked and certainly never caught fire. When I first met him, I had mentioned I help small business owners plan for the future. He suggested a coffee, so we met and had an outdoor conversation for an hour or so in the cold January sun. We talked about planning (or more to the point, the lack of it) and how many small business owners fall into the trap of having to sell today to pay yesterday’s bills tomorrow, and how not having a plan leads to an unstructured, unsatisfying and unfulfilling day.
We started talking about long term plans, and how a long term plan could help him structure what he was doing this year, this week and today. After a while I could see that he was beginning to think in a different way, and he began to realise how a long term plan put a much more positive slant on how he would approach his day. The conversation moved from discussing the necessity for viable business plans, and we began to discuss the first steps he’d need to take to put a structured plan into place. There was a very definite change in his demeanour towards the end of that conversation, and I felt he had begun to look at his business from a very different perspective.
I wrote down what he said at the end of that conversation: “Planning gives you the confidence to act.” It’s simple, but it’s true. The simple act of thinking about what you need to do, discussing it with someone else and writing down the results will help to clarify your path, and will give you the confidence to take the first active steps on the road to success. And very often we are already taking those first steps – we just need some help to work out our destination and begin to work out our route from ‘here’ to ‘there’
So don’t assume you have to suffer, have resilience and ‘keep going in the face of adversity’. Look to the future and plan ahead. I’m a fan of Machiavelli, and although he was born over 500 years ago, and although he may not be the most fashionable (or acceptable) of writers, some of his thoughts and writings are as relevant today as they were in the 16th century. One of his quotations is particular relevant – ‘Make mistakes of ambition and not mistakes of sloth. Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer.’
So take my friend’s advice to heart. Build brave plans, map out where you want to be in three years, get a sense of where you are now, and draw out your route from here to there. It’s the route that’s important, it’s the route where you will have challenges, and it’s the route where you will have to make choices and decisions along the way. And that plan will need to include the crossroads, and what your choices MIGHT be when you get there. No one really knows what lies ahead, but why not talk to someone who’s walked (or cycled) a similar journey, and get a sense from them of their challenges, their experiences and the choices they made. ‘Develop the strength to do bold things, not the strength to suffer’.