For a short period of time, during my school years, I took chess lessons. While I enjoyed the game I did not keep it up, probably because I was more inclined to less cerebral activities like football (soccer). The aspect of chess that I found most interesting is the need to think multiple steps ahead, to think through the implications of your next move and your opponent’s likely response… and beyond!
I try to apply the same thinking in my professional life. If I can think ahead a few moves then it means I can be better prepared for whatever might come my way. Obviously there are no crystal balls, but too often the future is very obvious and yet there are people who somehow always seem surprised!
“A first-rate Organizer is never in a hurry. He is never late. He always keeps up his sleeve a margin for the unexpected.” Arnold Bennett
Can you see yourself in any of these situations:
- The salesperson has one key contact in a client who gives them a significant amount of business. That person leaves, or retires, or gets promoted, or moves role… and “Surprise” the business dries up!
- The company relies on its technology to be its differentiator… but at some point someone else innovates faster. Surprise! The market for their solution is no longer popular.
- You have monthly work commitments and you have an upcoming vacation that will impact your ability to deliver. Surprise… you suddenly have to get the work done, at the last minute, before going on vacation!
- I make a commitment to deliver a speech at an upcoming conference, but procrastinate in writing it until “Surprise” the conference is in two days!
- You want to lose some weight and get fitter before the warm weather arrives. You lay out a plan but there are so many “exception occasions” that “Surprise” your weight is not going down and your fitness not improving!
If you take time out to plan then you are far less likely to get surprised. Thinking ahead, or “planning” is critical for individuals and companies.
“A man who does not think and plan long ahead will find trouble right at his door.” Confucius
In sales you need “account plans” that will meet and exceed your quota targets with built-in allowance for anomalies. You need to ensure adequate account coverage, an understanding of the “players”, competition, opportunities and threats. Good account planning should result in few surprises.
As a company you need strategic plans that will map out your future, taking into account external and internal influences such as competition and regulatory change. You should collaborate with your management team, and consider using external advisors in the creation of these plans.
As an individual you need to plan your time, ensuring that you get to complete the things you both need, and want, to do. A good plan will allow for both work and personal goals, assuring the right kind of life balance that suits your situation.
If you let your days drive you, instead of you driving your days you are bound to get more surprises than necessary!
Kevin Dee is Chairman and founder of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
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