Effective business planning involves making projections based on past performance and setting goals that are derived from current expectations. However, exemplary business management includes the ability to react to totally unexpected circumstances and to make quick decisions that might, on the surface, fly in the face of all that’s logical and sensible.
Disasters are certainly unexpected circumstances that should be planned for, both natural and business disasters. Here is some food for thought on how to deal with both.
How to deal with a business disaster
Responding to Disaster
Case in point: The decision of “Mattress Mack” in Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. If you haven’t heard the story, James Franklin McIngvale, the 66-year-old owner of Gallery Furniture, invited first responders and residents displaced by the flooding to enjoy his hospitality as long as necessary.
He not only allowed them into two showrooms to lounge on the sofas, sit on the chairs, nap on the recliners and watch the television news from home theater displays, but he also invited them to eat at expensive dining room tables and urged them to sleep on display mattresses, play in the aisles with their children, and bring along their pets.
Other Houstonians dropped off clothing and shoes, bedding, blankets, toys and other necessities for what became, in McIngvale’s words, a “slumber party on steroids.” He arranged for portable showers, made sure there was plenty of water, served food from in-house kitchens, and posted his personal cell phone number on Facebook in case anyone needed help. He was there to make everyone feel safe, comfortable and “at home.” He also sent his delivery trucks out to help ferry families to other emergency shelters and to deliver food and supplies to the hardest-hit areas of his city.
A Repeat Performance
This is not the first time the business owner has done such a thing. He opened his doors to shelter victims of local flooding last year as well and was there for those affected by Hurricane Katrina 12 years ago.
Why? Because “helping is the right thing to do when people are hurting,” he said. Plus, he added, “Furniture is made to be used, sat in and slept on, and we’ll have one hell of a well-used furniture sale when it’s all over!”
Now, what does this story have to do with your business? Just this. Sometimes, there is no way to predict what’s going to happen. There’s just no way to make plans and analyze multiple options. It’s during those times that individual actions and snap decisions become shining moments — in life and in business.
As long as you make sound decisions on everyday matters, building a daily ethic of efficiency and competence, chances are that you’ll be able to weather any storm, responding in a way that makes sense for you and your business, even if it’s totally unconventional. If the “storm” is physical rather than metaphorical, your options may be clear.
Disasters of Another Kind
Other business decisions, however, may be more difficult. The ability to meet ongoing challenges, overcome failure, minimize risk and loss, and maximize profit to assure continued growth — all of these business tasks require clear thinking, advance planning and an effort to assess pros and cons. Flexibility plays a part in the process, but you usually want to avoid those quick turns and speedy lane changes.
Business disasters can be man-made as well as natural. Threat analysis should be an ongoing part of your business planning.
Have you considered how you would compensate for partial or loss of communication with your delivery drivers? What about the unexpected closure of one or more job sites? How would you deal with road closures, power outages, severe disruptions in your supply chain, or a company-wide flu outbreak? What about an “attack” on your reputation, or the discovery of malfeasance, cyber theft or other financial irregularities? In today’s world, all are not only possible but more common than we all think.
Best ways to identify threats and assess your vulnerability include:
- Option Analysis
- Contingency Planning
- “Trigger” Identification
- Responsibility for Action
Formalizing an emergency action plan — in writing — can be a major step in the right direction. Prescribed policies and a clear chain of command not only save time but can save lives in critical situations. Knowing when to shut the equipment down, and how to properly back up your technology is vital, as are defined notification and evacuation procedures.
What Comes Next?
First responders to natural disasters note that after the initial shock and loss, those affected almost always move naturally on to recovery, whether it happens quickly or takes a long time.
The urge to “get back to normal” seems almost primal, but it’s rarely easy.
Returning to business after the shock of a natural disaster, a financial downturn, a project setback or a string of bad decisions takes determination, planning and “grit.” But it’s what separates the successful from the “also-ran.”
Thinking about recovery should be a major part of your contingency planning. Don’t hold back during the risk analysis portion of your efforts. Think about the worst cases and make plans on that basis. During the planning process, you might also want to think about what you would do to help others, research new business-oriented technology, and financing options, and investigate community and governmental resources.
Just as Mattress Mack was far from alone in responding to recent Houston floods, you are not a business island, in either good times or bad. Keeping your employees, your customers, your suppliers and even your competitors in the loop can make good business sense. Become familiar with beneficial resources — physical, material, psychological, financial, technological. Know that you have plans in place to deal with possible disruptions that you can identify. That’s a sensible approach.
But also be open to turning on a dime if the situation warrants it.