Effective Planning

Thank you all for coming. Before I begin, I want to thank Dave for the invitation and Wells Fargo for hosting.   I would appreciate it if you would turn off your phones. Also, I have gotten this speech down to 27 minutes. I’m a PhD which stands for “piled higher and deeper,” so for me to stay within the allotted time, isn’t easy.  I would appreciate it if you would hold your questions and comments to the end. If you would like to know the sources I used for this presentation, it will be posted on LinkedIn and my blogs by the end of the day, tomorrow at the latest.

This is a talk on Effective Planning. A plan is a solution to a problem. If you don’t have a problem, you don’t need a plan. But it is not just any problem. It is a problem which will occur or will be solved in the future.

Problem and stress are opposite sides of the same coin. That said, you can’t have stress without having a problem, but you can have a problem without having stress. For example, as some of you know, I suffer from double vision. I am not stressed, as my ophthalmologist said, it’s a nuisance. It’s a problem without stress because there was a plan and a solution – 3 pairs of glasses!

Now “problem” may be too harsh a word. Occasionally, “situation” may be better. We all had plans today that we did not think about, to solve “problems” that were not really problems. To wake up on time, we set our alarms. To look professional, we chose what to wear. To have the strength to get here, we chose what to eat and how to prepare it. To arrive, we planned how to get here. And we did not spend even a second thinking about any of this because we have done it so often that it is second nature.

“Second nature” is an important phrase. Planning is in our nature. It is in our DNA. It’s in the DNA of all animals. It’s how an infant knows how to open their eyes and to suckle.   It’s how a pregnant animal knows how to give birth.

Everything we do is planned either by us or for us. Most plans, for those of us in this room, are automatic. We are adults. We know how to do many things without thinking about them. We are professionals. We know how to do our jobs. Something goes wrong, we know how to fix it. We do what has to be done. Those of you with employees, train them so that you don’t have to micromanage them. That’s why one of the most important rules of hiring is to hire people who are, or have the potential to be, smarter than you.  The other is to have a diversified workforce which makes for superior decision making.

Of course, sometimes there are special circumstances where you have to sit and actually devise a plan.  But there is a problem with plans and planning. As von Moltke famously said, and I am paraphrasing a bit, “No plan survives first contact with the enemy” (https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Helmuth_von_Moltke_the_Elder). The enemy could be the Germans at Normandy, your competitors, government regulators, and I’m sure none of you has had to face this situation, but clients and customers can be enemies. You have this perfect plan and they mess it up. Or it could be something as simple as a storm and the power going out which brings business to a grinding halt.

Doris Kearns Goodwin, in her biography of LBJ, put it differently: “In typical circumstances, of course, people who slip into fantasy are quickly set straight by the adverse criticism of those around them, which forces them to face the truth” (Lyndon Johnson and the American Dream, eBook edition, Loc: 5880-5881).  In other words, your team can be the QUOTE UNQUOTE “enemy” because they give you a reality check and explain that what you want can’t be done.

Eisenhower said, “In preparing for battle I have always found that plans are useless, but planning is indispensable” (https://quoteinvestigator.com/2017/11/18/planning/). Ironically, many entrepreneurs never write a business plan. I once attended an Awards Breakfast, I think it was for Crain’s Entrepreneurs of the Year. There were half a dozen people being honored. Only one had written a business plan.

Earlier I said that planning deals with the future. I want to return to that thought.

We all know the quote, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” I wanted to share with you an example from business. But I wanted it to be a colossal failure. I was thinking about cybersecurity, which I will touch on in a few minutes. I could not find one. It’s not, for example, that Target or Equifax did not have their systems protected, it’s just that the bad guys were better than the good guys. That’s not the example I wanted. It won’t happen, but Y3K could be an example if they don’t learn from Y2K. I wanted an example where the participants had not learned the lessons of history. I could not find one.

And maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it does not exist, because entrepreneurs, and that includes all of us in this room, are known for reading about the experiences of others who have been there and done that.

Learning from precedent is how we plan for the future.  When creating a business, some people want to be unicorns – companies with a billion-dollar valuation, but all want to avoid black swans – costly surprises with extremely unfortunate consequences. So, the majority of us initially write a business plan.

We write a business plan to focus on the business. We want to think things through. We want to make certain we have all our ducks in a row. We want to make certain that we can achieve our goals and avoid those black swans.  And then we get started, we put those plans in our desk drawer, and never look at them again because they immediately become irrelevant unless we need them for funding purposes and then, more often than not, they have to be rewritten.

Business plans are works of fiction. They are what we HOPE will happen, not what necessarily IS happening or is GOING TO happen.

We make plans for business and for our personal lives.

We have stress in our lives. Sometimes through our own fault, sometimes not. People say you should manage stress. There is an industry of people who help others MANAGE stress. That is something I have never understood.

Just as true leaders manage projects, not people, you should not manage stress. Meditation is a good example. Some people use meditation as a way to clear their heads to confront and solve their problems. I am not concerned with them. My focus is on those, like some of my clients who use meditation as a coping mechanism to manage their problems. For sake of argument, you go into a room, shut the door, sit on the floor and meditate. You relax. You are no longer stressed. You stand up. You are refreshed. You open the door. And the stress is still there because the problem is still there. You have solved nothing. You created a fiction instead of confronting reality.

That is why I don’t believe in stress MANAGEMENT. I believe in stress ELIMINATION.

What are some of the causes of stress?

First, there’s not enough time in the day. Years ago, I gained time by rejecting the notion of a work-life balance. There’s no such thing. There are the “have-to”s and the “want-to”s. The “have-to”s in your personal life are just as urgent and necessary as the “have-to”s in your professional life. I HAVE TO interview candidates for the positions I am looking to fill. I WANT TO read a book. I HAVE TO compose a speech for a speech writing client. I WANT TO go out for dinner.

Some “have-to”s and “want-to”s can be combined. You can have a meeting and eat a meal. You can do your laundry and read a book. But some can’t.

Some of you have to attend an important client meeting. Problem is, at the same time you want to be at your child’s recital. So you have to explain to your child the importance of the client meeting so that they will learn. And sometimes you have to tell your colleagues that they really don’t need you at the meeting, but your child really does need to see you at their event, so THEY have to learn. And if that means afterwards, you have to go back to the office, so be it. It’s a lesson for your child and an example for your colleagues.

Now the Number One cause of lost productivity in the workplace is when people bring their personal lives into the office, causing stress to the productive employees who want to work and not chit-chat and resent the chit-chatting. Work should be a sanctuary from home; home should be a sanctuary from work. There are always exceptions to the rule. Emergencies happen.

Twice I went to bosses and begged them to get my colleagues to stop bringing their personal lives to work. In both cases they said it was impossible, but if I could do it, I had their permission. One case was a woman who got engaged. The other was a wife complaining about a vacation her husband was planning.  I spoke out. The engagement and vacation were cancelled. But, more importantly, in both cases, about a week after I intervened, both bosses called me into their office and said that since I had done what I had done, productivity had risen. Don’t allow staff to bring their personal lives into the workplace. And don’t make it a regular occurrence that you force them to bring work home. Fair is fair.

By the way, for those of you who paid, I don’t want to know how much, for tickets to see Hamilton, I paid $15.98 for the book. One quote is germane to our discussion. Chernow writes (Alexander Hamilton, eBook edition, page 175), “Madison was a priggish bachelor and tight-lipped about his private affairs. No personal gossip ever smudged the severe rectitude of James Madison’s image.” If you don’t want to have people gossiping about you, don’t give them any information to gossip about. It’s not rocket science!

As I said earlier, when we plan, we plan for the future.  That is, perhaps, the most important function of a business owner, of a leader.  The future is mostly unknown, but not really. The problem is, most people don’t plan for those things causing stress, sometimes to themselves but mainly to the people they supposedly care about. A few examples of what they know they need but don’t plan for are: an exit strategy from their company meaning succession planning; retirement; death meaning buying life and long-term care insurance. And don’t forget, if you have partners, you need life insurance on them to protect the business.

There are other things that are known and can be foreseen. You don’t know when they are going to happen only that they WILL happen. Simple example, we all know we will become ill or injured so we have health insurance. Or, we know there will be new government regulations, so we join professional associations to learn what to do.

Here’s another example, this one is from the not-always “Happiest Place on Earth.”  I was at a conference at Disneyland, staying at a hotel outside of the park, when this very rude woman woke me up at around 3 AM. The woman was Mother Nature and she decided I should experience a 7 point something magnitude earthquake. No alarms were going off. People were just standing on the balcony of the adjacent hotel. So I went back to bed until an aftershock around 6 convinced me it was time to shower, get dressed and leave for the conference.

I turned on the TV. They were interviewing the director of Emergency Management for Disneyland. He said it was no big deal. They had a plan. He was holding it. The plan was in a binder that had to be a good 8 inches thick.  Conference participants who were staying at Disneyland proper, told me that they were escorted from their rooms and out of their hotel by 3:15 and back in their beds by 4. When I got to the conference center, at around 7, breakfast was already setup. They had a plan. They implemented it. No stress. No problem.

A key to effective planning is learning and that includes intelligence gathering. You have to understand all you can about a situation. This does not mean “industrial espionage” it means “intelligence gathering” and it can be as simple as buying your competitor’s product or sending someone to their store.  But it’s not always that simple:

And you can fail. There was a huge intelligence failure on D-Day. If the Allies, with all their resources, were not perfect, you shouldn’t expect to be either. You will make mistakes. You will have to make corrections. It’s part of planning. Planning has to be flexible.

And that’s why you need a good team. And this brings us to the current state of the workforce.

The first thing about the future is you know one of your employees is going to do or say something stupid. That’s easy to deal with. You have a personnel handbook, and everyone has to sign that they have read it and will abide by its terms. And then you stick to it like glue.

So let’s talk about hiring. What is the state of the workforce? We focus on the unemployment numbers. But you cannot look at the unemployment numbers in a vacuum. You also have to consider the size of the workforce. How many people have voluntarily stopped looking for work? How many have decided to resume their job search? That’s the number that is the real indication of the state of the workforce. Today we have low unemployment, many people who can’t find work and want to work, and many employers who can’t find qualified people, especially in tech. So the irony is, as the job market improves, and people find jobs, we have low unemployment. But then, the people who gave up looking, try again, and unemployment rises. And that’s a good thing.

According to Inc. Magazine (Winter 2019/2020, pp. 104-105), 2 out of every 5 workers plan to leave their jobs in the next year. What’s more, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in September of last year, there were 7 million job openings, and only 0.8 unemployed persons available to fill each job. (And, no, I don’t know what a zero point 8 person looks like!)

So who is out there looking for work?  Experienced older workers. They are not my concern. School graduates. They are my concern.

Let’s deal first with public school. For the lawyers in the audience, we can mention Brown v. the Board of Education (1954) where the Supreme Court ruled that segregation was UNconstitutional. And then there was the ever popular, I’m being sarcastic, Plessey v. Ferguson that 58 years earlier had ruled racial segregation, as in “separate but equal,” WAS constitutional.

And now, 66 years after Brown, here in New York City, we have arguably the most segregated public schools in the nation (https://observer.com/2018/06/new-york-city-public-school-segregation/). This is supposedly because of the demographics of neighborhoods, some of which have a population 90% of a single race (https://www.publicschoolreview.com/blog/new-yorks-schools-are-the-most-segregated-in-the-nation). But the bottom line is, fewer white children have a chance to interact with minority peers, and vice versa. Well, if they don’t learn how to get along in public school, perhaps they’ll learn in college.

Not so. While segregation in public schools is race-based, in colleges it is ideology-based (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/11/12/business/media/northwestern-university-newspaper.html). Conservatives are blocked from speaking. Late last year, when the student newspaper at Northwestern published the story of demonstrations surrounding a speaking engagement by Jeff Sessions, they printed photos of the demonstrations and called participants for comments. The students complained that their photos had been published without their consent and that they had been scared when the reporters called. The student-journalists were doing their job. That’s what journalists do. They call people to interview them and they publish photos of events. But what did the university do in response to the complaints? They issued an apology for the students having been scared and upset.

So college students don’t know how to interact with people who hold different ideas. Think of what that means for the workplace. When these students don’t get their way, they will do what they have been taught by example. They’ll protest. How? They’ll run to HR and file a complaint. They have learned to be adult whiners.

And, for the record, it’s not just conservatives who are being blocked. Comedians are being censored to such an extent that even Jerry Seinfeld is refusing to perform on college campuses. The students are so sensitive that anything can set them off and be taken out of context. It’s just not worth the aggravation or, if you prefer, it’s just not worth the stress (https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/red-alert-politics/comedians-arent-allowed-to-be-funny-on-college-campuses).

And we are not talking about isolated incidents. A recent survey by the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, shows that almost two-thirds of conservative students, half of moderate students, and about a quarter of liberal students, are afraid to voice their opinions to other students AND to FACULTY (https://www.marketwatch.com/story/both-liberals-and-conservatives-tell-the-wrong-story-about-free-speech-on-college-campuses-2020-02-19). So, what’s going to happen when THEY enter the workforce? Will they share their opinions or sit quietly at the conference table? That will be a problem.

And that may be why some students are quitting college for technical schools. First, they won’t have to deal with any of this foolishness. Second, they get trained to actually do a job. Third, the schools make their money by performing, in other words, by the high percentage of graduates who find work before they graduate, so their career counseling departments have to be highly efficient. And fourth, less student debt.

But that’s not all. Permit me to return to the situation in our public schools.

In 2007 the US Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics reported that 1,770,000 students were homeschooled, meaning 3.4% of school-aged children. Here’s the situation: 68% of those children were white, 15% Hispanic, 8% black, 4% Asian or Pacific Islanders (https://hslda.org/content/docs/news/2013/201309030.asp). In 2019 the National Home Research Institute reported that 2.5 million students were home schooled and 32%, the same percentage, were non-white (https://www.nheri.org/research-facts-on-homeschooling/).

Now the Institute, with all due respect, represents a constituency. So, we have to take their report with healthy skepticism, even though they did confirm the 32% stat. They claim that their students do better than public school students and that they get plenty of peer-to-peer interaction in extracurricular activities.

For sake of argument, let’s say that is true. So, we have children learning at home and not in school. Add to that the gig economy, people working at home, or in cafes, and not at an office. The Federal Reserve estimates that 75 million people are in the gig economy (https://www.bradley.com/insights/publications/2019/10/the-more-things-change-the-more-they-remain-the-same-worker-classification-in-the-gig-economy). Additionally, FlexJobs and Global Workplace Analytics claims that 3.9 million employees, or 2.9% of the US workforce, telecommutes, working from home at least half the time (https://www.flexjobs.com/2017-State-of-Telecommuting-US). And this will only increase as the world becomes a 5G planet (https://www.inc.com/jason-aten/5g-will-change-way-you-work-from-anywhere.html?cid=search).

So, the trend seems to be away from working as a team, at least a team in close proximity, to working as individuals.

Now we all know he can’t build a shatter-proof window but Business Insider reports (December 26, 2019) that “Elon Musk says you still don’t need a college degree to work at Tesla.” He looks for “evidence of exceptional ability,” and “a track record of exceptional achievement.” He wants people who have a record of solving difficult problems.

Let me ask you this: Who would you rather hire, someone who, as a final college project, created a perfect ecommerce website or someone who, the day they graduated from high school, logged onto their computer, taught themselves to code, and built a perfect ecommerce website?

My approach to planning is rules-based. Rules are based on past experience. That’s just logical. So when a friend, job seeker or business owner calls and says they have a problem, I know what to do.  I have rules. I follow them. Stress eliminated. Problem solved. And this can be anything from hiring, finding a new job, dealing with a disruptive client, coping with a neighbor, getting engaged, to even getting revenge.

Personal relationships are what I call binary situations and they are easy to plan. Either the relationship will work or it won’t.

The ironic thing is, this is exactly the same in business with one exception. There is no lawyer who would not insist that their client sign a partnership agreement when going into business with someone. But there are lawyers who advise their clients against signing pre-nups, which, to me, makes no sense, and which, ironically, can be detrimental to future business plans.

Now in business we know that one thing is probably going to happen to everyone in this room, everyone in business, literally everywhere. (See Chris Moskovititis, Cybersecurity Program Development for Business [Hoboken, NJ: Wiley 2018], pages 1-3.) 

There’s a hacker attack every 39 seconds. A third of all consumers in the US have experienced a cyberattack costing between $500 and $5,000. It takes 2 minutes for an Internet of Things device to be attacked. The average ransomware attack costs a little over $1,000. And here’s what should really scare you: Three-quarters of all attacks come from the outside, but one-quarter involve insiders. Forty-three percent of cyberattacks target small businesses, and 60% of those are out of business within 6 months. Forty-eight percent of attacks are malicious, while 52% are caused by human error or a systems failure. We are talking trillions of dollars in damage.

So what do you do? If you’re a little guy like me, you have protocols in place. If you’re a big guy, you hire someone to provide cybersecurity.

In any event, as I said, to plan for the future you create rules based on past experience. You also have to have the tools to, frankly, be a threat, because you never know who you will be facing. One quote I really like is from Bob Woodward. He related the following: “I remember, a couple of years ago, having breakfast with one of the world leaders who is one of our best allies. I said, ‘What do you think of Obama?’ He said, ‘I really like him. He’s really smart. But no one’s afraid of him.’” (David Rubenstein, The American Story: Conversations with Master Historians [eBook edition, p. 316]). Another word for “afraid” is “respect.”

That is why I built a social media network that today stands at over 44,000. I have used it to help clients and I have used it to help myself.

Bottom line: Hope for the best, plan for the worst. Eliminate stress, don’t manage it. Learn all you can before you act. Make sure you know the facts. Learn from the past – both the mistakes and the successes of others. And, most importantly, establish and abide by rules.  Do so and your planning will be effective.

Thank you.