Hail Mary passes in American football are named after a prayer for a reason. The chances of the quarterback connecting to a receiver over a long distance make this kind of pass look like an act of desperation when the clock is close to Game Over.
Did prayers miraculously come true for Aaron Rodgers’ last-chance effort to win their Green Bay Packer’s second game against the Detroit Lions? No. The final pass was not entirely an act of desperation requiring heavenly intervention. Rather, practice made the play part of the Green Bay arsenal; and practice made perfect.
There is a lesson in that for all of us as organizational leaders.
Apparently Rodgers and his teammates regularly practice long passes, and did so at least three times the practice before the Lions game. Green Bay’s preparation for the final attempt to score also included placing a former basketball rebounding star downfield. His ability to track Roger’s throw and jump at the right time and in the right place won the game.
Preparation on one side met an unfortunate assumption on the other. The Lions assumed the Packers would pass the ball back and forth down the field and lined their talent up accordingly. It was a reasonable assumption given previous Packers games. But it was far from the only option that the Packers had, and the Lions’ assumption turned out to be false.
How often do we prepare our organizations for unlikely events? Have we thought what we would do in a recession (which may be around the corner if the US Federal Reserve’s interest rate hike is ill-timed)? If not, we may unwisely make reactive cuts that can hurt the long run versus respond strategically. P&G cut too much of its innovation talent during a recession and paid the price in the upturn.
Do we prepare ourselves to be disrupted by an organization not even in our market space? BlackBerry thought it had a stranglehold on the business market, and never saw Apple moving into its market space.
Have we anticipated and acted on how we will hold onto our talent if the early signs of stronger recovery prove sustainable? Have we protected the knowledge each sales representative holds about our customers? Have we imagined a younger generation not caring about famous Baby Boomer branded categories, like fancy refrigerators and cars?
No, you cannot anticipate all risks. But you can identify those most likely to occur or those of greatest consequence, or both. And you can figure out in advance, before panic interferes with sound thought, what you would do.
Like cross training that makes muscles strong for any movement, not just those needed for your favorite activity, anticipating and preparing for unlikely events builds the strong strategic musculature for today’s uncertain times.
As a leadership group, you can and must challenge your hidden assumptions about competitors, suppliers, and customers. What do you mindlessly take as fact? The Lions’ coach I am sure wished he’d planned for more than one potential Packers play to get points on the board before the game ended. He’d have placed better talent in the end zone.
The New Year is about to begin; for many organizations, a fiscal year as well. Delineate your key risks. Mentally prepare. Engage in preparing responses that make sense for the business. Invest in those that make sense for other reasons even if the risk never materializes.
Something rare or unexpected will happen next year. Exactly what may not be certain. But, like Rodgers, you’ll thank preparation, and not the Virgin Mary, that you were ready.