June 27, 2019

How to Prepare for Uncertainty

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I feel like we live in very uncertain times. Brexit alone is enough to paralyse most people and companies. And it’s not just me. This is according to the Economic Policy Uncertainty index (http://www.policyuncertainty.com/index.html). But rather than looking at uncertainty with trepidation and fear, I prefer to see the challenge of predicting the future as an opportunity to prepare for a spectrum of potential scenarios. Of course, you probably won’t predict exactly how things will happen. As Dwight D. Eisenhower said in 1957,

“Plans are worthless, but planning is everything.There is a very great distinction because when you are planning for an emergency you must start with this one thing: the very definition of “emergency” is that it is unexpected, therefore it is not going to happen the way you are planning.”

If you are reading this, you are likely involved with or running a contingent workforce management programme. If not, the basic concepts are applicable to numerous situations, so read on!

In order to protect your contingent workforce (CW) programme, you need to ensure that all of your teams and collaborators (internal and external) understand, agree and sign up to the various risk types. Ultimately, future proofing is about protecting yourself against disaster and ensuring agility to respond to changing circumstances. To start, take these steps:

  1. Identify your key risk owners
  2. Establish a risk register
  3. Agree on risk categories (i.e. Intellectual Property, Legal, Operational, Reporting, Safety, Strategic, Tax, Perception, Reputation)

Once you have the basics down, you need to go through a risk planning exercise, not just once, but on a routine basis. During this exercise, your cross-functional stakeholders and team members should brainstorm potential risks, rank them (ideally using a Failure Modes and Effects Analysis or some similar method), determine your response strategy (i.e. accept, share, avoid, reduce), and assign owners. Again, don’t just do this once. Share the register, make sure everyone is on the same page, and then refer to it when issues arise. When something is a ‘risk’ you are planning for something that may occur; therefore, you should consider putting tactics in place to mitigate or prevent it from happening.

No matter how well you plan, though, issues come up. And when I say ‘issue’, I specifically mean that something has happened, and you need to respond and resolve it. To plan for an issue, you need a few mechanisms in place.

  1. Have an escalation plan that explains who tells who, when, under what conditions, and what triggers an escalation. There is nothing worse than every e-mail being marked as critical and copying the world. I worked with an MSP who did that, and everyone simply became numb to the word ‘critical’.
  2. Ensure that the paths for escalation are in place, practical, operationally sound, survivable, and socialised. Don’t make them too complex, rely on single points of failure, or hide them in a filing cabinet!
  3. Have a response plan which minimally states which team(s) come together in the event of an issue.

Don’t think of this as a boring, box ticking, theoretical exercise. Think of this as an opportunity to build the trust in your programme ahead of any future events. You can achieve this by proactively identifying your key internal and external stakeholders and making sure they know each other. Set up routines with them to touch base and see how things are going. Establish a recurring reporting mechanism that allows you to reflect the complexity of your programme and the overall programme health. If you then share this with all of your stakeholders along with your issue response plans and risk register, you will be in a position of strength and credibility when the inevitable challenge comes about such as when a manager can’t get a contingent worker to start on the day they want. Use the uncertainly of the future to build your programme’s brand and you will turn a weakness into a strength.

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