The importance of planning, thinking early and often, and always being decisive!

Ensuring success for a business or organization involves two types of planning: deliberate planning and planning for contingencies. Deliberate planning is the process by which a 5- or 10-year strategic plan is developed. Contingency planning is knowing what to do when the unexpected happens. And believe me, the unexpected is always sure to happen, no matter how much we prepare.

Deliberate plans are based on driving a specific set of actions to create the environment we wish to achieve. Whether it is gaining market share, increasing membership, or growing net assets, there are a set of known actions that must take place to get results. Deliberate plans also require a large amount of buy-in from stakeholders who must 1) understand the plan, 2) know their role, and 3) be able to communicate the plan to others. Even then, things can go awry.

I still smile when I recall Mike Tyson’s famous quote, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

Indeed! I have seen this throughout my military career, particularly as a 3-time commander and especially when I was a war planner during 9/11. I’ve also seen it happen in my current role as DCUC President and CEO.

To counteract such surprises, it is always important to forecast “branches and sequels” along with a set of contingency plans. This comes into play when something changes the environment you relied on for each of your deliberate actions. Forecasting for these events takes a bit of imagination and a large amount of creativity to develop such plans. Thinking early and often helps in these instances.

Most contingency plans deal with “known unknowns,” such as a potential downturn in the economy, regulatory fines, the public relations campaign that follows, or imagining new competitors in the marketplace. Planning for these types of contingencies is often very straightforward. It usually involves an “if [insert a planned situation] happens, then we initiate our [planned response to the situation].”

Yet, these kinds of foreseeable issues can provide a false sense of security if/when your organization encounters “unknowns” that catch you by surprise. What now? This is where leaders distinguish themselves from pretenders.

What I have found helpful is to have a set of processes and procedures in place that can deal with any problem. This involves implementing a series of checklists, immediately bringing everyone needed on board, and quickly establishing a “battle rhythm” every 30 minutes or so to keep from falling behind. From what I have experienced in the military, the first 48 hours are crucial to the success of your plan…and communication is vital!

Unfortunately, some organizations struggle because they fail to account for these types of events. There is no “cookbook” or “recipe” for success. However, you can practice a set of responses such as personnel accountability and knowing where everybody is, establishing both internal and external communications channels, and maintaining a sense of calm.

Here is another tip: if your organization incorporates practicing how to respond to the unknowns, make sure everybody takes it seriously. I have witnessed several instances where senior colonels (i.e., VPs) ask to be dismissed due to other “work” demands, are distracted by their cell phones, or complain about how much time is consumed by practice. Then something happens in the real world. Bang! Your organization has just been throat punched—and paralysis amongst these team members is setting in:

  • A worldwide pandemic shuts down our economy—liquidity concerns cascade on top of everything else—panic sets in along with some unexpected reactions.
  • All air travel is suspended/grounded because our country is under attack or software fails—supply chains are disrupted, markets tumble, and small businesses fail—loan defaults pile up.
  • You have no succession plan, and something happens to the CEO—a power struggle ensues, and a large exodus of talent occurs before a replacement is named.

Contingency planning doesn’t have to involve a catastrophic or adverse event. Some situations tend to suddenly present themselves. If your organization can recognize, adapt, and seize the opportunity, good things tend to happen. A short time ago, credit unions that were nimble enough to react and find a way to process Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) applications demonstrated agile membership support which became highly valued in the marketplace.

My point is the same contingency planning processes are useful during moments of adversity and when opportunity hides in the aftermath.

A final note: it takes a decisive leader for each of these situations. Developing consensus, cross-checking with direct supports, and if you have time, weighing alternatives are always recommended. However, being indecisive when the “go/no go” moment arrives can be just as destructive as the event itself. At the end of the process, “a leader must always lead.”

As we head into 2023, be sure to review your plans. Think early and often about potential changing conditions and above all, be decisive! As I follow my own advice and when there is a moment to look around, I expect to be celebrating your success. Best wishes to you and your team all year long!

Contact the author: DCUC

Contact the author: DCUC

Anthony Hernandez

Anthony Hernandez

Anthony Hernandez is the President and Chief Executive Officer of the Defense Credit Union Council (DCUC).  He joined DCUC as its Chief Operating Officer in August 2016 and was selected ... Web: Details