Best Practices: Contingency Planning Like the Military Can Save Your Organization
In Corporate America, some industries have been (and will be) more impacted by COVID-19 than others, but all can benefit from understanding how military operations are created with the “unimaginable” in mind. The truth is: You can’t really plan for the unimaginable, but you can come close.
In aviation, we would create contingency plans for things like an aircraft malfunction, getting shot down, or running out of ammunition. Military contingency planning is building and adjusting your plan based on intelligence on the enemy.
Servicemembers have been trained to pay attention to intelligence on the enemy and not “stick our heads in the sand.” It was in February when we recognized the “enemy” was absolutely going to impact business at Bradley-Morris/RecruitMilitary. As a company built on physical events, we knew we had to act quickly.
To respond to the looming threat, we created a “rapid response” team to evaluate the different ways the organization might be impacted. Within 48 hours, we’d converted our physical events to virtual, and within four business days, we were well into the process of transitioning all our employees into remote workers. The swift action saved jobs and helped us keep our balance as the “ground” shifted under our feet.
Here are the three major impact areas we considered:
1 | The Health and Safety of the Team.
We watched and listened to the updates and made decisions accordingly. One of the first things we did was to cut travel that could put anyone at risk of exposure. Next, we moved very fast to get everyone remote.
2 | Maintaining Operations.
It was a no-brainer that physical events needed to move to a virtual environment if we wanted to continue to provide employment opportunities for our veterans. Fortunately, we’d already been doing virtual events, so we didn’t need to build from the ground up. That doesn’t mean it was an easy switch (we host over 100 physical events per year), it just means we had one less thing to do.
3 | The Financial Infrastructure.
We predicted significantly reduced sales and revenue. Cuts had to be made, so we found areas where expenses could be reduced. I cannot stress how critical it is to get ahead of that early.
Because of the quick thinking from our department heads, we were able to cut millions of dollars of expenses out of our business - in a day.
By starting with non-human costs, we bought ourselves time in making much more difficult decisions as we moved forward. Cutting employees was our last resort.
A true military contingency plan will not look the same from start to completion of the mission. It is fluid and alters course or adjusts based on intelligence of enemy tactics.
It’s also extremely important, through the entire process, to communicate to your team. You can’t really over-communicate when it comes to the wellbeing of your people.
Anytime your mission is going to be disrupted, you have to have a communication plan that helps you execute the contingencies in a way that everybody understands.
In the business world, that's not about radio silence. It's about ensuring that you are communicating with your team in a way that reduces fear and helps them feel that they're being communicated with, and that all questions can be answered in a way that helps people know what to do.
General Mattis has a spectacular philosophy: “What do I know? Who needs to know? Have I told them?”
When you're executing contingencies, that becomes even more important. If there's fear, people will scatter. By communicating with and supporting your team, you are supporting the mission.
Tim Best is CEO of Bradley-Morris/RecruitMilitary and a former U.S. Army Special Forces aviation pilot.
By Tim Best