The Power of Anticipation

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The power of anticipation is amazing. It is a skill you can learn and if employed on a regular basis it enables you to maximise the resources at your disposal and helps you to manage your time effectively. It changes your mode of operation from one of fire fighting to one which allows time for strategic planning.

The strategies work in every walk of life.

Think of a game of football. If the striker passes the ball to where his team mate is at the time he kicks the player will have moved on and the shot will be wasted. All good players anticipate where their team mate will be and send the ball to that place. The skill is judging the speed and direction of the other player.

In business success is tied closely to your ability to anticipate the market. The one hundred business list published in the USA every year rarely has the same organizations in the top ten. I find it fascinating that many don’t slip a few places but disappear all together. Anticipation allows you to buy in raw materials at the best price. To plan to spread the work load over the year, minimizing peaks and troughs of work load. Appointing staff that can grow with the needs of the organization will difficulty; anticipating training needs will avoid stagnation.

As a leader and manager the skill of anticipation starts with a clear, shared vision and translates into a workable action plan delivered by well trained people who know what is expected of them. The plan is dynamic; there is a constant monitoring of performance based on the pursuit of growth and excellence. Time is made to look strategically at what is needed in the medium and long term and plans put in place to minimize risk and maximize performance.

As a team member anticipation should be clearly tuned to achieving the goals of the team. People know what needs to be achieved and are looking at how that can be done on the most effective and efficient way possible. There is a constant curiosity about how things could be improved. Underpinning the whole process is trust, good communication and a sense of contribution.

If you are always planning for things in the here and now it is likely that you will constantly chasing to catch up. I was working with a new client who is constantly late. She underestimates how long things will take, often does things for others when they probably have more time to spare and finds it difficult to say no. She finds herself stressed and feels overwhelmed by her life. She is highly intelligent and caring of others she has an interesting but demanding job but no time to organize her own life. The result is she is constantly tired, sleeps badly and is constantly chases her tail. Her story is not unique by any means.

Learning the skill of anticipation is incredibly useful if you want to take control of your life. Let me demonstrate what I mean using the Christmas theme. I have three resources available to me – time, energy and money. All of them are finite resources, although I can buy other people’s time and energy with my money.

I love Christmas but when I worked as a Head Teacher I worked very long hours and the few weeks before Christmas were completely manic I needed to have all my attention on school and by the time the term ended I had little energy to spare. I wanted to enjoy my personal Christmas so had to find a way to make things work. Anticipation was the key. Although I no longer have the same pressures surrounding Christmas the benefits of applying the rules of anticipation are still incredibly useful.

I anticipated that I would give around 500 Christmas cards and would need a quantity of wrapping paper, bows, ribbons and labels. I always bought these in the January sales. They went in the loft until November. Net result was a considerable saving financially.

My long list of people to buy for includes seven God children, five nieces and nephews, a Great Niece and Nephew, brother, sister and partners, father and lots of friends. During the year I listened carefully and made a note in the diary if I hear one of my “list” mention something which could translate into a suitable present. I keep a look out for things during the year and if something catches my eye I will buy it and put it away for Christmas. This can save a great deal of time and lots of energy fighting the Christmas crowds. I have been known to loose presents by putting them “somewhere safe” and not finding them till February or buying twice for the same person. I have solved these glitches by having a Christmas list on the computer which is quickly updated each year. It also helps me to track what I have given over time. The benefit is that I spread the financial load and the last minute shopping lists are kept to a minimum.

I used the same principle I use with papers when dealing with presents. I try to handle them as little as possible so will often wrap things in batches before they go up into the loft. They are put into “family” carrier bags so they are ready to go just before Christmas.

Labels for Christmas card envelopes were on the computer, updated well in advance of Christmas and cards for friends and family, staff, Governors and those who were associated with school written in batches whist watching the TV from November onwards. This made it far less of a chore. I was also careful to choose card designs which required less writing by me. I learned this the hard way having bought a set of cards one year which were blank for your own message making the job so much harder.

I enjoy entertaining but found I needed a creative approach to make the whole thing as stress free as possible. I cooked in advance, using the freezer to ensure that on the day I was still wake to enjoy the festivities. For example I prepared the roast potatoes and parsnips in advance – parboiled them, brushed them with oil whist they were still hot. I placed them on the baking ray, covering them with cling film and freezing them once cool. On Christmas morning take off the cling film and pop them into a hot oven from frozen. It saves the peeling, washing up and time on the morning allowing you more time to enjoy your company.

The principle of looking ahead to see what can be usefully done in advance, of prioritizing the use of time energy and money and of breaking down the jobs into manageable chunks is applicable to any context. (You can’t eat a whole cow at one sitting but it is easy to do if you tackle it mouthful by mouthful.)

Consider your life. Where could you use the skill of anticipation more effectively?


Organizations - Anticipation Underpins Organizational Success

Creating success is only half the story. For those organizations who want to survive and thrive in the long term sustaining success is the name of the game. Many do not. As you walk through your high street or local shopping mall consider how many sops arrive in a great flurry of publicity only to be plastering the CLOSING DOWN EVERYTHING MUST GO notices on their windows a few months later. Very few of the organizations who make the top 10 most successful businesses published each year in the United States are still within that top 10 two years later. So what is the answer? It would be naive to think that there was only one reason but one common strand has to be that there is a lack of anticipation. In this context I am using the word as a verb, a skill which can be learned and when it is used well it can make an enormous difference in a department or organizations ability to succeed in the first place and over time.

To develop the anticipation muscle it is first important to understand your current performance: what is going well and why and where there is room for improvement and development. By understanding your strengths and weaknesses and being honest about both it is then possible to plan strategically to protect those strengths and to plug any gaps.

The ability to plan strategically is absolutely central to anticipation. These words are used widely but often as I work with clients it is evident that the word strategically is used loosely. For the purposes of this article I am using the following definition:

A strategy is a long term plan of action designed to achieve a particular goal, most often "winning". It should include alternatives, fall-back strategies, and the like.

When playing a game there is a need to pass the ball not to where the other player is now but to where you think they will be by the time the ball reaches them. It requires an accurate judgment of distance, speed and a sense of what the other person will do. In market terms it requires you to anticipate what will be needed in the short and medium term future. Second guessing the market, what customers will want to buy next season, what the weather will do are all elements which can affect the market. Intuition based on solid research and a “nose” for the future trends can make the difference.

It is important to appoint staff with the future in mind. Creating capacity is crucial if you are to meet the future needs of your company. Appoint people with the right attitude, who are great team members and who have the capacity for personal growth. Offer them a supportive induction and training programme. Ensure that there are high expectations which are shared explicitly and that great performance is encouraged and recognized. Plan for succession from day one so that you reap the benefits of all the training you have put in place. Do you have a plan for your organization which looks at the future needs of staff within your company? Is their an appointment, training and development programme which encourages growth and supports promotion or do you loose staff to your competition?

It is impossible to read the future with absolute accuracy but it is entirely possible to train your staff to be aware of the implications of taking a particular action or not, to understand the available data and being able to make reasonable judgments based on it. How often do you ask your team to create a hypothesis about the future using available data? When was the last time you encouraged junior staff to discuss what might happen if…. And come up with strategies to deal with the situation. Doing so when there is no panic or pressure and taking the time to look at the relative merits and difficulties of their suggestions does take time but can pay huge dividends as they then understand the implications of actions at a much deeper level.

How do you define your resources? I would include the use of time and energy, space, people including their ability to be creative and their good will, finances, equipment and materials at your disposal. Do you have strategic plans which facilitate the most effective and economic use of your resources? Do those plans reach out to consider what your future needs would be in a variety of potential contexts? Are you constantly evaluating the relative risks and benefits of both actively doing something or of doing nothing? Does your planning include the means for effective recovery if something goes wrong?

Having plans is a great starting point to really anticipate effectively it is important that everyone understands the plans and the part they have to play in making the plans a reality. The plans need to be dynamic and flexible enough to respond to the changing needs of the organization and effective communication at every level ensures a shared understanding. There is a huge danger in believing that simply because you have a plan that you are safe. The plan is only the start, everyone needs to translate the plan into action and to evaluate performance in order to determine how best to modify the plan for future success. Anticipation is a planned way to ensure that we fail better in the future. The learning which takes place as things go wrong determines the level of success in the future. Those individuals or organizations who fail to learn from the early signs that something isn’t working as well as it might are likely to face insurmountable problems in the future.

One of the most powerful ways to develop the skill of anticipation is to make sure the needs of the future are part of today’s conversations. Of course you need to focus on the needs of today but ensuring that your team constantly review their current performance and ask challenging questions are a great start.


Recommended Reading

"Feel The Fear And do It Anyway"
by Susan Jeffers

This inspiring self-help book picks up where the others leave off. It shows readers how to get what they want in spite of their self-sabotaging fears. With step-by-step techniques, they can tap their own natural inner resources and improve their own lives.

Dynamic and inspirational, FEEL THE FEAR AND DO IT ANYWAY is filled with concrete techniques to turn passivity into assertiveness. Dr. Susan Jeffers, teaches you how to stop negative thinking patterns and reeducate your mind to think more positively. You will learn: the vital 10-Step Positive Thinking Process; how to risk a little every day; how to turn every decision into a "No-Lose" situation, and much more.

 

"How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively (And Pave The Way To Your Next Promotion)" by Gina Gardiner

Offers lots of practical strategies for managers to help get the very best of their staff as individuals and as a team.

Everything in the book has been tried and tested in a variety of organizations; it is a distillation of over 30 years experience of developing leadership at every level.

The book does not attempt to teach grandmothers or grandfathers to suck eggs, but offers tried and tested principles, strategies and ideas which have been proven to work.

Time, energy and money are all very precious resources and all three seem to be in short supply for most busy managers.

How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively (And Pave The Way To Your Next Promotion) Can help! Dip into it if you are facing specific issues or use the comprehensive approach to underpin ongoing and sustained individual and team development.

It has relevance for experienced managers who want to share good practice and for aspiring leaders who want to develop and deepen their leadership skills.

The book covers a wide range of issues including:

  • Developing strategic vision

  • Creating your dream team

  • Creating a ‘Can Do’ culture

  • Effective delegation

  • Holding people to account

  • Developing a solutions approach

  • The power of anticipation

  • Giving positive feedback

  • Having those “hard conversations”

  • Managing stress for you and your team

  • Creating a good work life balance

     

How YOU Can Manage Your Staff More Effectively (And Pave The Way To Your Next Promotion) will stand alone but you will find it useful to use it in conjunction with the companion book Kick Start Your Career.

 

"Kick Start Your Career" by Gina Gardiner

This book is designed for new initiates into the business world and graduates who are ambitious and want to create a successful career for themselves. It is a no nonsense, jargon free manual, full of practical ideas and strategies to support the development of leadership from day one.

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