Where Planning Has Its Limits

By Russ Levanway, President

With the new year, I’ve been thinking a lot about where we are now versus where we were this time in 2020. This might be stating the obvious, but many assumptions we had going into 2020 have been turned on their head.  Going into 2020, everything was (pardon the pun) business as usual. We had our annual business plan dialed in, part of our general three-to-five-year plan. We had our quarterly goals lined up. Everything was set up for success.

And then the pandemic hit.

Looking back, we accomplished maybe half of our internal goals in 2020. That’s not to say we fared badly, though. We accomplished other goals we never even thought we would have to deal with in 2020.  Also, the last year taught us a few extremely valuable lessons — lessons I don’t think we could have learned any other way.

Lesson #1: Working from home isn’t horrible.

Prior to 2020, researchers and business experts debated whether working from home was beneficial or detrimental to productivity and company culture. The opinions were mixed, as were the results of countless studies. But after all that hand-wringing, COVID-19 has taught us that yes, working from home can…work. At first, it was a big, difficult transition for many, but by and large, people did well working from home. Some people were more productive, some were less so, but on balance, we pulled it off — not just at CIO Solutions but as a nation.

That being said, our company held a distinct advantage in 2020 because we were already using a couple of key tools. First is our CIO Cloud.  For us and many of our clients who use our Cloud, transitioning to working remotely was – while not seamless – way easier.

Another huge asset we have internally is good dashboards that show us what our support and project teams are up to at any given time.  At a glance, I can see what people are calling in about, who is on the phone queues, who is working on which support tickets, etc.  We also had a great communication chat tool – Slack – that was already widely used across our team.  So in essence, we had the tools to get people working from home and not be totally isolated in the process.

Lesson #2: It can always get better, and it can always get worse.

It was certainly a new year in terms of new lows. We saw crisis after crisis, from political unrest and protests to wildfires and the effects of a devastating virus.  Our company had to deal with an ungodly number of computer viruses and cyber threats over the year as hackers used every opportunity to exploit vulnerabilities as people transitioned to less secure work from home environments.

On the flip side, though, there have been tremendous success stories over the last year. We’ve handled so much more than we thought we could. Many people have come out stronger. Developing a vaccine in under a year? Incredible! Supporting our hundreds of clients in a few hundred locations and then all of a sudden in thousands of remote locations while also working remotely ourselves?  Wow!  It goes to show that what we can do and achieve is better and more than we realize.

You can’t always plan for the worst, but you can’t always plan for the best, either. When crisis hits, or when the unknown rears its terrifying head, we might be surprised by the downside and the upside. All we can do is embrace it when it comes.

Lesson #3: It pays to be flexible.

Planning is good — no doubt about it. But, ironically, if our planning is rigid and inflexible, we become brittle. When the underlying assumptions that we used for our planning change, it is important to revisit the plan.  This is not the same as letting up on a plan because it is “too hard” or due to a lack of discipline.  This is simply an acknowledgment that realities have changed, and it’s time to adjust.

Sure, looking at the glass half empty, we accomplished nowhere near what we’d planned for 2020. But looking at the glass half full, we shifted nimbly to accommodate the new COVID normal. We equipped our clients to work remotely, no matter where they were. In fact, helping clients work from home has transformed how we deliver our services, across the board. Constant attacks and attempts to exploit our clients by hackers demanded a different approach and way of responding to security incidents. We had to throw out a lot of our original planning and devote resources to remote work and security, and progressed a long way in those regards.

How did your business do in 2020? When your employees shifted to working remotely, did your system allow them to continue to do their job? Did it allow you to keep tabs on them? Were you surprised by how challenging it was, as well as how successful you were as a company? Were you able to adapt?