Dealing with the Unexpected

Anyone who has been following political events in Westminster over the last few months will know just how quickly a situation can fundamentally change around us. With every new day, it appears as if events are not only speeding up but becoming more uncertain. Every new headline about shifting loyalties, new votes, new deals, rejected deals, leadership challenges and resignations seems to make the immediate future look more and more uncertain.

And it’s not just the public sphere that is addled by confusion and ambiguity. In the FM sector, the future of Interserve remains in doubt after entering rescue talks with their creditors earlier this month. While the ship may have been buoyed by the news of a debt-for-equity swap, many Interserve employees and subcontractors may still understandably feel insecure over their future.

The angst we feel about uncertainty almost always stems from
the feeling of being at the mercy of events that are out of our control. But what we find most frustrating is when we attempt to tame or control future situations by planning, only to find our plans wrecked by unforeseen circumstances.

So how should we react when our best laid plans are rendered redundant by the unexpected?

Well you can start by not having such comprehensive future plans in the first place. Or at the very least, don’t plan so confidently that you cannot prepare for a sudden reversal of fortune.

A previous employer of mine used to advise me to “only properly plan for things you can control, do that and the rest will come easier”. At first, I was tempted to think he meant that we should just ‘go with the flow’ and accept circumstances passively, when the point that was really being made is that we should hedge our bets, accept that the experience of work will always throw up challenges that will scupper our original intentions and do our best to position ourselves, so that when the inevitable does happen, and our plans go awry, we haven’t bet the farm on the outcome we wanted rather than the one we got.

And crucially, learn to turn setbacks into opportunities.

Last week one of our clients threw a spanner in the works by insisting on renegotiating the fee for Myfm’ s services in sourcing an associate and mediating the contractual discussions. Financially, this could have been written off as a financial setback and left at that. Alternatively, we could have refused to budge on our 10% asking price and risked a deterioration of the relationship. But when you’re in a business that prides itself on its flexibility and prioritisation of harmonising its clients needs, it made far more sense to accept a renegotiation of our asking price given the situation and maintain a healthy long-term relationship with our customer.

Dealing with the unexpected is more than about being prepared for a bad outcome, it is more importantly about being able to turn a bad outcome into a good one. If we can plan to find value in more than just the next deal and the next payday, then cultivating long-term benefits can be expected.

Using the tools you have, not the ones you want.

I was having a discussion with a colleague this week who was having trouble with a new database they have been using for their job. A substantial amount of money had been spent on a sourcing platform which was marketed to us on the basis that it would make the process of finding associates for our clients quicker and more efficient without sacrificing quality control for the process overall. Although many of the functions of the new database worked as well as expected, many notable elements of the programme, such as the messaging function and the interface, were not an immediate “fit” with the way we had previously gone about sourcing associates online.

It may be tempting in a situation such as this to go back to square one, write off your new purchase as a bad investment and return to the less developed methods you had being using to do business before. However, it would be wiser to avoid going down that route.

When it comes to performing a task or project, we all have our own methodology and procedures, some of which we have developed and consolidated over years in the business. Even when circumstances change around us, be it new technology, new opportunities, or radical changes in the marketplace, we often prefer to cling religiously to our own working habits. When innovative tools and products that could make our jobs easier do become available, we welcome them, but we tend to only take to them if they can be easily tailored to the existing processes through which we work.

But would it not make more sense to reshape our work to the tools we have available to do it?

Always expecting the systems we use for business to suit us perfectly can always be expected to fail. If we force any product or database, be it a messaging platform, a LinkedIn product or a CRM, to suit our business needs without adapting to them ourselves then we will only end up getting frustrated when these tools don’t comply with our preconceived notions of what “works”. This will only make us less efficient and productive at work. Being adaptable is a necessary trait in any line of work, if we encounter a situation where established business processes don’t fit with the available infrastructure, it’s up to us work within the parameters that we can given the tools available.

We all like work to be routine, safe and familiar, but if we allow ourselves to be more open-minded with new ideas and products, we may find that a little flexibility is no bad thing.