Achieving business objectives day in and day out is very difficult work. Even if we are very effective at leveraging the people and resources and variables we can actually see and control, there are a host of other people and resources and variables that are beyond our control and that often change based upon external factors. Everything from market forces to the weather, from new disruptive technologies to politics can challenge or wipe-out our best laid plans. Internally, people leave organizations, boards or owners or executive teams change priorities, and strategies that work one year or in one context may not be effective at other times or in other situations.
Because this is true, effective managers always keep a few operational levers in their back pocket. In short, if everything you are already doing has to go right in order to achieve your goals, you have built significant risk into your operational plans. It is rare that everything goes right. When a particular strategy fails, or a rule or law changes, or you lose a particularly valuable employee, your overarching objectives rarely go away—they just become harder to achieve.
When this happens, it is very helpful to be able to pull operational levers that you’ve kept in reserve. This may be quickly adding a product or service to what you sell. It may be rapidly going live with a productivity-boosting technology. It could be pulling the plug on an expensive “nice to have,” but not necessary initiative. It may be simply moving individuals or teams into different roles. The point is that you always want to have a couple of extra arrows in the quiver that are not already committed to the achievement of your goals.
For this to work, you have to have thought about it before the challenge or crisis arrives. A good time for this is when you are developing budgets or planning staff recruitment or developing marketing plans, etc. Always try to identify a possible operational lever in each area that you don’t intend to implement initially, but that you can implement quickly if necessary.