Posts Tagged ‘uncertainty’

By Richard Martin

Business leaders must constantly decide on how much time to devote to future planning versus present action. The needs of day-to-day management and decision-making tend to swamp us as leaders and managers. We get caught up in immediate, tactical issues, and lose sight of the bigger picture, where we are ultimately headed, and what we will do once they we there.

Should we focus on immediate goals and problems, or should we live more in the future, even to the point of only considering our long-term vision and development of our organizations? At extremes, we could devote all our time and resources to the present or, conversely, we could be pure “visionaries.” In fact, wisdom lies somewhere in between, neither being purely myopic nor purely far-sighted. But how should we make this decision, and how do we determine when and how much they need to shift our attention from the near to the medium to the long term?

The key lies in what I call the “future paradox.” Some decisions and actions will have immediate or short-term results. Others will take longer to come to fruition, even to the extent of taking years before they are fully actualized and the results are in. This can generate a significant lag between decision, action, and results, between cause and effect. The problem comes from this lag.

We can’t afford to be stuck in the present, but the further out we look, the less the definition and clarity, the greater the uncertainty. Present commitments and decisions are essential to build future readiness and achieving distant objectives, but these may severely constrain our future freedom of action.

 

This is the future paradox: We must decide and act now to generate short-, medium-, and long-term effects, but we can only do this with increasingly fuzzy knowledge and information. In other words, change takes time, but conditions can and do change between our decision point and the time that our actions start taking effect.

We have a current reality and we articulate a vision of where we want to be in the future. This vision is nothing but the overarching objective of our undertaking. To speak in military terms, it can be to win a war or achieve an peaceful outcome in our nation’s interests. But it can also be to capture a road crossing and then be ready to face a counter-attack. In business, it can be a strategic goal, for instance to launch a major international expansion, or it can be much more mundane and tactical, for instance to win a contract with a new client. It is the future vision that drives most of our decisions. The gap between the objective and the current reality is the fuel for planning and decision-making. It frames our actions in the short, medium, and long terms. Over time, we should approach—and eventually arrive—at our ultimate destination, our vision, or overarching objective.

Some things we can do relatively easily and quickly. These decisions lead to short-term plans and actions. Others take more preparation and lead time. These are our medium-term plans and actions. Finally, some things we must start right away, with a view to gaining results only in the longer-term future. For instance, we can be facing a decision on whether to invest in a new factory. We must secure the capital and start the building or acquisition process now, but it can take months or years before the new facility comes on line. This requires a long-term plan and actions.

To make matters even more complex, though, the definition of short, medium, and long terms depends on the scope of responsibilities and roles. For a large company, the long-term can be, in some cases, decades. For a sales person or a production team, it can be tomorrow or next week. It is the scope of activities and effects that determines the extent of the time horizons under consideration.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

by Richard Martin

I had a conversation last week with a former client of mine. Apparently, things are going extremely well for him and his organization. That’s a good thing. He seemed very confident of how well he and his management team were doing.

However, I got the impression that he was also a bit smug about it. I congratulated him on his great results. However, I also asked him what proportion of that performance was attributable to him and his team, and what proportion to an excellent business environment. While he acknowledged the outstanding circumstances and good luck, his body language told me a different story. It screamed “Why is this guy harshing my mellow?”

There’s a difference between confidence and smugness. Confidence is a belief in your abilities and experiences. It stems from self-efficacy, the knowledge that you can achieve certain things well, and have a command of certain skills and resources. However, it also incorporates a good dosage of humility and a questioning mindset. I listened to a radio interview with the new head coach of the Montreal Alouettes last week, Jacques Chapdelaine. He pointed out the same thing: Confidence must be counterbalanced by humility, the understanding that you are facing a thinking opponent whom you must respect, and that you might not have everything figured out. There is also uncertainty, and you can only deal with probabilities, never with inevitabilities.

Smugness, on the other hand, is the belief that you have it all figured out and that you are on top of the game now and for the foreseeable future. An important manifestation of smugness is the belief that you have gotten what you deserve, that your position and performance are the fruits of your efforts and that luck or particularly favourable conditions have little to do with your success. This means that luck (bad and good) are not on your radar screen. It’s all blue skies ahead.

The key to confidence is to build competency and to learn from experience. Don’t take things for granted. In a nutshell, prepare for the worst, but hope for the best. Even more important, though, is to appreciate the role of luck and uncertainty in all situations, whether you are the beneficiary or not. That’s where humility comes in. Humility isn’t self-deprecation–false or honest–it’s the genuine appreciation that you don’t know everything, and can’t know. It provides the only effective counterweight to smugness and false certainty.

New Testimonial

“Richard has been instrumental in getting me to draw on my hard-won experience and ideas to turn them into marketable intellectual property and products. His disciplined, systematic approach has already led to several significant accomplishments for me. Whether you’re just starting out as an entrepreneur, or working to get to the next level, Richard can boost your productivity and organizational effectiveness. Be forewarned, though. There is no magic formula, just systematic thinking, disciplined execution, and… Richard Martin.”

Caroline Salette, Owner and President, RE/MAX Royal Jordan Inc. and Salette Group Inc.

Richard Martin’s Business Readiness Process:

  1. Ensure vigilance through situational awareness.
  2. Do preliminary assessment of tasks and time.
  3. Activate organization or team.
  4. Conduct reconnaissance.
  5. Do detailed situational estimate.
  6. Conduct wargame and decide on optimal course(s) of action.
  7. Perform risk management and contingency planning.
  8. Communicate plan and issue direction.
  9. Build organizational robustness.
  10. Ensure operational continuity.
  11. Lead and control execution.
  12. Assess performance.

Contact me to apply the whole thing–or just a piece, as needed–to improve your strategy, your readiness… and your results!

Did you know that an infantry battalion only needs about 3 to 4 hours of prep and planning time to be battle ready? What are you waiting for to get the same benefits for your outfit?

Why Sunday and What Does “Stand To” Mean?

Sunday? I want you to get my insights and advice first and fast, so you can prepare and up your readiness and results before others even know what’s happening!

And Stand To? It’s the order used in the military to get forces to man the parapets and be in a heightened state of situational awareness and, yes, readiness, so they can face any threat or undertake any mission.

My name is Richard Martin and I’m an expert on applying readiness principles to position companies and leaders to grow and thrive by shaping and exploiting change and opportunity, instead of just passively succumbing to uncertainty and risk.

© 2017 Alcera Consulting Inc. This article may be used for non-commercial use with proper attribution.

I find in my interactions that one of the most useful aspects of military wisdom to business, and life in general, is simply to not assume that you know everything, and that you’ve got everything figured out.

I find that too often business leaders assume that their plans will work to perfection just because, well, they’ve planned it that way. As military history and experience teaches us–and as cogently expressed by Donald Rumsfeld–there are known unknowns as well as unknown unknowns.

Military wisdom teaches us that we have to be prepared for anything, that we must make hard choices about how to allocate scarce resources, that we must consider many different scenarios and options before we decide on a final plan, and that we must keep reserves and contingency plans in our back pocket just in case we were terribly wrong about what we thought the enemy would do, or the weather, or anything else for that matter.

© 2012 Richard Martin. Reproduction and quotes permitted with full and proper attribution.