Cataclysms hit businesses every day: the loss of a key client, lawsuits, a public relations nightmare (think Dell’s exploding laptops), and sometimes even gaining a large new client. When AT&T secured exclusive rights to support Apple’s iPhone on its wireless network in 2007, Steve Jobs said he’d be happy if they could grab one percent of the global cell phone market, or about 10 million units for 2008. Instead, Apple sold closer to 43 million—25.1 million in 2009 alone—and acquired 14 percent of the global smartphone market. And AT&T’s network simply couldn’t handle the traffic. The result? Lots of very unhappy customers. Unhappy vocal customers who were very savvy to the impact of social networks.
Once a quarter, our company’s management team spends a day with me envisioning our “What If” scenarios. These “Tsunami Planning” sessions tackle global scenarios that have the potential to completely overwhelm our operations. Recent topics have included: how to respond in the case of a major natural disaster, the impact of quadrupling the business overnight, and the loss of a key executive.
While natural disasters and other acts of God remain remote possibilities, if the economic crash of 2008/2009 has taught us anything, it has taught us that the economic cycle is going to remain dynamic, despite what Alan Greenspan thought. So, in early 2008, before everything had really tipped over and recruiting was still booming along, DT was rolling out strategies for growth, while at the same time planning for a major reversal in new business. As a result, we were able to weather what was a significant downturn, and even roll out new products and services, while several competitors went bankrupt.
The purpose of a Tsunami Planning session is not to come up with what you know, but to explore what you don’t know. If you are just going through the motions and listing our action steps, you’re not planning for tsunami: it should be a painful and difficult process, and the result is peace of mind.
I haven’t gotten hit by that proverbial bus yet, but we have a plan for it in case it happens. And that’s a good feeling.