What happens when you paddle in circles without a plan?

May 26, 2020

By Martha Sullivan, CPA, CVA/ABV, CM&AA, CEPA
Partner, Succession Planning Practice Leader

Martha leads HK’s succession and exit planning services division and is a regular contributor to Wisconsin’s InBusiness digital magazine.

Last summer, my husband and I went on vacation. The house we rented was on a small lake and had kayaks. We enjoy kayaking so we hopped in a two-person boat. Shortly thereafter, I remembered why there is joy in a one-person kayak. Seated in front, I couldn’t see what direction he was steering. There were differences in opinion about the most effective process — when to dig deep in a paddle or use less force. To top it off, we then noticed the boat was slowly taking on water. We quickly realized we had to get our act together and haul tail back to shore.

Sound familiar? I share that story for two reasons.

One reason is the tug of war we all have in thinking, “I’ll just do it myself” — my thinking mid-paddle of “This is why I like my own kayak.” That was not only selfish but stupid. In all likelihood, I wouldn’t have noticed the water coming in as soon as he did. We needed both of our strengths to get back to shore in a timely and safe manner.

As entrepreneurs and owners, we often hoard responsibility and fail to lean on our teammates. When pressured, there may be the temptation to pull back responsibility. Try to resist that temptation. Engage your team.

The second reason I share the story is that it really shows how important it is to have a plan and to communicate it. A two-person kayak moving without a proper plan and system is going to either go in circles or end up in a paddle-driven water fight with attorneys involved.

The same is true in our companies. If you have not put together a plan to focus your team, do it! Work together to break it down into how you are going to:

  • Take care of each other — This includes workforce protection, redeployment, and management. Now, more than ever, the spotlight is on the relationship between the employer and the employee. You both need each other to stay strong and healthy — physically, financially, organizationally, and culturally. Good health does not happen with a magic wand. It takes discipline, conversation, analysis, and coordination — and planning.
  • Engage your customers — How are you keeping engaged with your customers? This is always important but in the new world we live in, the priority is higher. The options at hand range from the creative to the mundane — using video and social media and other creative outlets to going retro with street mail and telephone calls.
  • Manage your supply chain — Supply chain strain is real and deserves its own plan, as was the focus in my recent blog post, “How are you handling your supply chain strain?” Plan and implement a rhythm and routine into managing your current and future supply chain demands.
  • Embrace operational efficiencies — Necessity is the mother of invention. You and your team are finding new ways of getting the job done right now because you have to. Be willing to gore the sacred cows, figure out what is working and what is not, and institute new efficiencies. The sooner you embrace and harness change, the better off you’ll be.
  • Model and stress testing scenarios — Wise business leaders recognize the power of the financial forecast, knowing that the time invested provides clarity, understanding, and, ultimately, easier and better-informed decision-making. With the uncertainty in today’s markets, the shrewdest leaders grasp the need to model best, worst, and most-likely scenarios so that they can pivot if needed. Invest the time. Do it.

Communication has never been more important than it is right now considering the pandemic and economic situation. Communicate your plans throughout the organization, as well as to customers, suppliers, and your advisors.

That’s how you’ll get to shore safely. (And, in my case, enjoy the rest of a vacation together!)

So, let me ask you: Do you have a plan? If yes, how’s it going? If not, what’s stopping you from doing it? I would love to hear from you. Shoot me an email or give me a call if you have a question.

Stay healthy, y’all!

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