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Fail to plan, plan to fail...

Finally emerging after a period of 'Garden Leave' it is nice to be back in the saddle, well if not exactly in the saddle at least in the stable yard looking at the horses again!

Garden leave is an odd thing, mine was so long it seemed as if I had actually just been given a year’s sabbatical and I suppose that is probably a reasonable description. The only difference was that after eight weeks the rest of the country joined me on my sabbatical, except theirs was called Lockdown… One positive aspect of Garden leave (and in my opinion there aren’t many) is the chance to just pause and reflect on what you have been doing and having worked sixty plus hours per week every week since our first MBO in 1996 I had much to reflect on. One of my conclusions has been that there is real value in being able to sit back from business and take in the broader perspective, without feeling the need to be at the coal face every day, and in my case (because days were always full of the normal grunt and shunt of running a business) that often took the form of going out in the middle of the night to visit many of our 24/7 venues. I must confess that I really enjoyed that, not only being able to drive around the country and park easily but also 'catching people doing things right', which was always very pleasing and I think motivating for all parties. The point is (and I learned this from Jimmy Thomas many years ago) that if your staff never know when you are going to turn up they do realise that it is just easier to just make sure that everything is always as it should be.

But what has been particularly interesting is that after an old friend asked me if I would act as a sounding board for one or two businesses on a pro bono basis (and having agreed wholeheartedly to do this) I soon found that it doesn’t make any difference what industry sector you are in, the same issues tend to crop up time and again and the same solutions can be applied to address them. Recently I have spent some time with the management of three distinctly different businesses, one in industrial storage, one supplying the Oil and Gas industry with hardware and one developing vehicle security systems. In every case it was clear that management really needed to ensure that they spent some time thinking strategically about their business, and as part of that process they needed to have a clear, written down strategy that provided a road map for them and their management teams. So many CEO s (and I include my past self in this) believe that because they have a rough idea as to where they are going, not only is that the perfect plan for their business but also their senior team understand this, or if they don’t precisely understand it then they will by osmosis from their glorious leader understand on some subliminal level and be able to function to their optimum ability. Painfully wrong obviously, or maybe not so obviously…

In short, you need a credible business plan, you need to communicate it coherently to your team and whilst you certainly don’t need to slavishly follow it you do need to pick it up about once a month and see whether things are going to plan. It certainly doesn’t need to be rigid, and you do need to have the confidence to alter it to reflect the trading environment in which you find yourself. Businesses have been won and lost through leaders either being flexible and adjusting strategies or being inflexible and never having a Plan B/C/D. |One thing I am certain of, many businesses that have survived for years on the back of the vision of one or two people are, in 2021, going to need something much more scientific and structured if they are going to survive and ideally seize the opportunities in a post Covid, post Brexit landscape.

Meantime, I must say that it is very nice to be back and I for one are looking forward to 2021!

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