Don't let 'what if' become 'if only'


What’s one of the most important responsibilities of a CEO? I would suggest that it’s ensuring that there continues to be a sustainable business tomorrow, ….. and the next day and the day after that.

It’s to consider “what if” scenarios and take action as necessary to ensure that avoidable problems don’t end up becoming “if only” reflections. This requires time spent thinking ahead.

When I’ve discussed this with CEO’s the response I often receive is “Yes I understand this Colin, but I haven’t got time for that.” It’s also I sense a question of not knowing how and where to start.

Initial “what if” considerations can take as little as 10 or 15 minutes and be completed for example during the morning commute.

Below, as examples, I’ve identified four “what if” questions and accompanying actions that CEO’s should take.

What if ….. an economic crash similar to that which occurred in 2008 happened again?

I would suggest a conversation with the Finance Director to ask about banking covenants; cash flow and credit facilities and the payment terms with the most important partners.

What if ….. a number of my senior management team resigned to join a competitor?

Review with the HR Director the Service Agreements of all senior personnel and in particular consider when post-employment restrictions and confidentiality clauses were last checked to ensure that the terms are current. Further I would consider reviewing the relationships the business has with external recruiters who could quickly be instructed to commence a search for candidates.

What if ….. our IT system was compromised? 

A conversation with the Head of IT will allow you to ask about the robustness of being able to defend against malware and other external attack software; how frequently are employees briefed about system security and the speed with which a Disaster Recovery Plan could be implemented to ensure business continuity.

What if ….. there was a change in the employee/employer relationship climate?

Again, I would suggest aa conversation with the HR Director to ask about current, and planned, engagement strategies, employee turnover statistics, the reason’s employees leave, and the training managers have received in being alert to managing conflicts and employee relations situations.

Further, I would suggest that you challenge your senior team to ask similar “what if” questions of their teams.

I fully realise that if actions are identified the remedial steps that are required may be lengthy, time consuming and expensive. But as CEO you will know this because you will have asked “what if”. A far better position to be in than having to reflect on the alternative which is “if only”.

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