Plan for the worst, strive for the best

by Pranav Ramesh
July 12, 2022

It happened to Theranos, Volkswagen, and Wells Fargo. It happened to Blockbuster, Enron, Blackberry, Kodak, Pan-Am, and MySpace. As did Polaroid, Tower Records, and Borders Bookstore.  

 Could it happen to your company? 

 The “it” we’re talking about is the future, more specifically, the inability to predict, plan or prepare for the future. Sometimes the future can bring periods of great growth and expansion. Other times, unforeseen future threats can kill your company.  

 Could these companies somehow have avoided the catastrophic event(s) that led to a loss of public trust and significant growth? Some of these companies mentioned here didn’t survive at all. At the very least, could they have seen it coming?  

What we do know is that there are very obvious threats and then there are threats that catch us by surprise. These can be localized occurrences or global events that change every facet of business. Companies can be aware of such threats, be better at predicting them, and plan for events that competitors simply won’t survive. Whether these threats are internal or external, with vigilance and planning, they can often be overcome to lead to a successful future.  


We never saw it coming…  

It can be difficult to understand how a large company, with significant resources at its disposal, could forget to plan for the future. The daily grind of keeping up with competitors and simply staying in business often doesn’t leave business leaders a lot of time for planning and preparedness, especially as many companies have made the choice to “run lean” and a single employee might be handling the responsibilities of 2-3 positions within their unit.  

Management consultants continually impress the need for companies to be agile, mindful, and resilient. But, like many things, CEOs may find this easier to do in theory than in practice. After all, what good is a well-developed plan for the future if you don’t have the time or resources to practice its execution? 

Once a company can anticipate future threats to its operations, they need the ability to act quickly while keeping its options open about how to respond. Today, companies have to be vigilant across all units and open to diverse inputs on how to predict and prepare. Leadership should develop a company-wide culture willing to challenge superficial assumptions and outdated conventional thought.  


 RELATED POST: How To Own the Next Era Of Growth: Setting Your Company Up for Success


Internal vs. external surprises 

The shocking story of Theranos kept corporate America entertained for months with its massive internal “surprises.” It can seem incredulous that such massive amounts of fraud and deception could be kept hidden for as long as CEO and Founder, Elizabeth Holmes was able to. Holmes was suspected of fraudulently describing company capabilities and was charged with federal crimes. The lessons learned from Theranos should extend to companies everywhere. Theranos was unable to face its technological failures head-on, which led to an extreme lack of accountability and total loss of integrity.  

An equally surprising, but external, threat that Nokia didn’t anticipate was serious competition in the cell phone market. Aside from internal strife among upper management, Nokia was vastly unprepared for the arrival of Steve Jobs and the highly superior technology of the iPhone. Because of Nokia’s narrow focus on the creation of hardware and physical devices, the company failed to understand the importance and potential of software in the industry. Apple didn’t make the same mistake. Nokia relied too heavily on its brand and missed the future threats that eventually killed the company.  

Also, consider that the leadership expertise needed to anticipate internal surprises, such as sexual harassment scandals, may be quite different from skills required to foresee external ones, like increased competition or innovative technology. 


Don’t let it happen to your company  

Vigilant leadership means investing in tools and proper training so a company can act quickly and without delay when needed. Companies that fail to treat vigilance and preparedness as a priority often don’t pick up the early warning signals and will have fewer options to choose how they respond in comparison to a company that was able to see a challenge on the horizon. 

Skilled leaders can interpret both internal and external signals, whether they are rumors of a merger or pending litigation. To properly interpret these signals requires understanding their context and connecting the dots. Vigilant company leaders know to keep their “ear on the ground” to tap into informal channels, from the water cooler to online chatter. More controversial technological options exist for this low-level surveillance, including codifying all e-communications and use of AI-based text analysis to mine for small shifts in company culture and values. 

Leaders must keep in mind that any significant surprise an organization endures typically has multiple early warnings; nearly always, these warnings first appear at the edges of business. CEOs and management need to pay attention to the periphery surrounding their company while still managing the everyday operations to stay on track with goals and deadlines. 

The most important drivers for organizational vigilance include:  

  • A company-wide commitment to vigilance (including leadership) 
  • Investments in foresight 
  • Strategy-making processes 
  • Coordination and accountability 

It doesn’t always take a global catastrophe like a pandemic to permanently damage your company beyond repair. Sometimes, it’s a little company secret, left to fester, that balloons into something your organization simply can’t recover from.  

The future is not easy to predict, but you shouldn’t let it surprise you. With diligence and thoughtful preparedness, your company can be poised to take on tough challenges and not only survive but thrive. 

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PTP’s diverse and global team of recruiting, consulting, and project development experts specialize in a variety of IT competencies which include:

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Peterson Technology Partners is an equal opportunities employer. As an industry leader in IT consulting and recruitment, specializing in diversity hiring, we aim to help our clients build equitable workplaces.

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