Leaders beware, there’s a mole coming…

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In 2014 I had a new lawn laid. Not just some grass. A proper lawn. No expense was spared in preparing the ground and laying top grade turf. The sort of stuff they use for bowling and putting greens. It looked amazing.

To keep it that way I embarked on a lawn care strategy. One that involves multiple treatments every year. I cut the lawn with a proper cylinder mower. The sort that leaves wonderful stripes. And every winter it gets scarified and hollow tine aerated.

With such a wonderful plan in place I looked forward to many years of warm, sunny afternoons enjoying my picture perfect lawn. What I hadn’t counted on was Mr Mole. Suddenly, and without warning, my perfect plan was shattered.

Now I’ve long been a fan of Jasper Carrot’s mole sketch. If you’ve never heard it, you can find it on YouTube. However, what I now know for certain is that nothing can prepare you for the devastation these pesky critters can cause. And yes, it’s true, you’ll get plenty of “there’s only one way to get rid of a mole” advice. Most of it, including the bit about windmills, being 7/10th of useless.

So what’s this got to do with business leaders? Well the moral of my tale is clear. No matter how good your strategy is you can’t plan for everything.

We live in an increasingly uncertain world. Brexit is just one example. As one leading economist put it perfectly “everything will change – in ways we cannot predict”.

We also live in a fast changing world where technology seems to be able to make almost anything possible. How we do business today is just a snapshot in time. Tomorrow, next month, next year it will be different.

Put the two together and it becomes clear that you just can’t have a strategy – let alone a business plan – that can possibly predict every situation and every scenario.

So ask yourself this: when is Mr Mole going to pop his head out and ruin your corporate lawn?

History is littered with examples of even the biggest businesses failing to tackle the unexpected. From oil spills to banking crises we’ve seen it all. Some survive the turmoil, others don’t. Few emerge with their reputations intact, their customers happy and their shareholders smiling.

Which is what makes an organisation’s culture so vital. No amount of strategy, planning or training can prepare your people for every scenario. What you can instil is a set of values that give them the best possible chance of responding in the right way to unplanned events. That way you have the highest probability that they’ll make good decisions and do the right thing.

Great cultures empower people who take ownership and pride in what they do. When the mole moment comes they’ll likely step up. While those who’ve been micro-managed to death will stand around waiting for orders.

There’s a great saying that “culture eats strategy for breakfast”. The more I work with top teams the more certain I become that is right. If organisations spent as much time on values and behaviours as they do on plans to deliver sales and profits, the corporate world would be a much healthier, and resilient, place.

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