In Defense of Good Planning by Carl Sylvestre

When does good planning come to fruition? Sadly it is at a time when you least expect it. Then the worst-case scenario must be put into action.

In good or even ordinary times worst-case scenarios are often seen remote and the idea of sound planning is viewed as a luxury. If things are going well, why stop and map out a sustainable future, just keep the wheels turning.

Since April, we have been watching in horror the oil disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. As expected, the blame game has begun and will continue for years to come. Like most, I believed that after the 1989 Exxon Valdez spill, the oil industry realized that it lacked a plan to deal with these worst case scenarios and have since made amends. We are finding out that this is not the case. Yes, many plans were filed, but often without any rigorous thoughts, e.g. dealing with saving the walruses in the Gulf of Mexico when there aren’t any. Monitoring plans remained on the shelf. Exercise done, and time to move on.

By contrast, we celebrated the successful landing of US Air flight 1549 which famously landed in the Hudson River in January 2009 after hitting a flock of geese near La Guardia Airport. We have since learned that their feat relied upon a successful emergency checklist that made an unexpected complex situation manageable.

If good planning is such a good insurance policy why does it seem to be such an arduous task with no purpose? Why do so many organizations continue to believe that managing for today is more important than managing for the next year or the next decade? Are they planning to close shop?

We cannot predict the future, but we can start by acknowledging that it will be there and that good vision and planning is a starting point to gain some control over it. Waiting for a cash flow crisis, a system shut down, the sudden elimination of a program is not the wisest path to follow.

Let’s start this process by writing down our goals and look at opportunities and obstacles. Just as we are about to reframe the debate on oversight in the oil industry, organizations can start by redefining their insurance plan to thrive in good and bad times.