There’s been a lot written about the need to be flexible now that uncertainty plays such a part in the new normal. And, like so much else, it sounds like good, profound advice. Especially when you’re giving it, which, as strategy consultants, is something we have been doing for some of our business owner clients.
But, every now and then, life hands us a very practical opportunity to practice what we preach.
For example, for a number of reasons, I have to go to the U.K. at Christmas. For the first 5 or 6 years I did this my travel plans went smoothly. Last year I had a few weather related challenges coming back to Canada. Still, it was manageable.
But this year I have already been handed an opportunity to develop my flexibility – and I haven’t left yet!
I was supposed to fly out last Sunday night but, that morning, my flight was cancelled. Not a “biggie”, I reworked my strategy, developed an action plan and began to implement it.
I had to react quickly because there were lots of competitors also trying to grab the available seats. I had to alter my route, but I saw that as an opportunity to avoid Heathrow and the ongoing threat of bad weather there. And I may have saved a few dollars on the cost of the original fare. Bonus!
As in business, there were “knock-on” effects. But I rearranged the rental car and called in additional resources – my relatives. Their offers of help were gratefully accepted.
Now, it looks as if we (my wife is also scheduled to leave tomorrow night) are going to continue to have opportunities to work on our flexibility. Will our connecting flights be operating and will the roads on the final leg of our journey be passible? Then, in 10 days’ time, we have to get back home.
However like, I suspect, some of our business owner clients I find the mechanical aspects of being flexible – e.g. changing schedules or the start or completion dates of action plans or modifying budgets or forecasts – relatively easy.
But developing and executing an action plan to deal with the intangible aspects is more difficult. Chief amongst the intangibles in the case of my example is the impact on the person we are going to see – my Mother. She’s 82 years old, lives alone and her health is not as good as it used to be.
Reassuring (while not promising) her that everything will be fine and that we will be there for Christmas requires different “skills” than re-booking a flight or a rental car. Recent changes in her health have created new threats because she lives alone and mean that, while we’re there, we have to find new opportunities to provide support for her.
I find that responding to the requirements of being flexible is much harder when I’m managing people and their needs and expectations. I suspect that some of our clients find that too.
So perhaps being reminded that there’s more than one dimension to flexibility is the real lesson of the last few days. It’s an essential one because people are much more important than anything else.
And so my first New Year’s resolution is to bear that in mind when I work with our clients in 2011.