At Your Service: April 21, 2010

They say that if you want to hear God laugh, you need only tell Him your plans. Nonetheless, there is value in planning for the future of our businesses and the lives they support. There will always be factors that are beyond our reach and imaginations, but planning helps us be prepared for the rest of what may happen.

This is the time of year – that time between “seasons” – when we are likely to have the time and energy to make an effective assessment of where we have been and where we are going. With our financial picture fresh from our tax preparations, we have a fresh perspective on our personal priorities, which is the starting point for all good plans.

Thinking people know that there is no way to fundamentally separate what we want for our lives from what we want from our businesses. Those things that constitute our personal commitments drive the professional choices we make. People for whom family is their number one priority are not found at their desks while their son is hitting the winning homerun. We always find solutions to conflicting commitments when our priorities are clear.

This makes it a simple process (not always easy, but simple) to plan for those inevitable conflicts. The business owner might schedule someone to cover for him or her at the front desk or set his or her hours to coincide with game schedule. An employee could address up front that they would like their schedule to reflect certain times of availability for family events. In a small community, a cooperative effort can lead to everyone being able to honor their commitments and earn a living.
When customers know what to expect, they are more likely to be flexible and willing to work with your schedule. Consistency is the most important factor for customers. They want to know that they can count on you to be there on Wednesday afternoon, or whatever hour you have said you will be open for business. Posting a schedule in both your window/door and advertising informs your customers about your intentions.

Planning can be used for both the large decisions and the small. Running “what if” scenarios on our financial projections can help us improve almost any decision. Asking the question, “What will I do with excess inventory when an item isn’t as popular as I anticipate?” can save us a lot of headaches down the road. When we also ask how quickly can I get more if it sells out in the first week AS we place the order, sets us up to be ready for whatever results we achieve.

Planning doesn’t solve problems in itself, but it does enable us to have two things: a plan for the anticipated and an inventory of skills we will need to deal with the unexpected. The planning process gives us a sense of our inventory of resources, which includes our own expertise and understanding. Every surprise problem calls us to draw from the same resources we have identified for the resolution of everyday situations. We learn that our even temper is an invaluable asset when a disappointed customer charges through the front door. The more we build upon those skills and talents by determining their various uses, the more aware we become of the ways they serve us.

The best feeling is having been prepared and capable of action for one thing to happen we find that a completely different set of circumstances has arisen and we can deal with it effectively. Indeed, few moments are more satisfying than those in which we are called to draw upon some skill or lesson learned, often painfully, and we discover that we are ready. Then, we get to do the laughing.