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Planning at pace and building resilience in business with Chris Paton, Former Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Marines

May 13, 2019

​When it comes to delivering a resilient business strategy and planning for transformational projects, knowing how to manage the situation and adapt under pressure is a core skill. Resilience within the military is another extreme, but with people management, action planning and being able to manage a situation with multiple outcomes being fundamental aspects, there are central lessons that can be easily translated to business from this setting.

As part of our insight breakfast series, we were joined by former Lieutenant Colonel of the Royal Marines (and now MD of Quirk Solutions), Chris Paton, to discuss how to ‘plan at pace’ by drawing from his services expertise.

Chris’ expertise spans active service in a wide range of territories as well as being an advisor to the Cabinet and National Security Council on the Afghan strategy. In this role, he was responsible for pulling together the extraction plan for all UK combat troops and equipment from Afghanistan; “one of the biggest strategic problems that the UK had seen since the end of World War 2” and included coordinating the military, government and civil activity of over 10,000 individuals and £Bns of equipment.

This process of moving thousands of troops out of the country in 2 years was, naturally, a logistical nightmare; from dealing with HM Treasury to placating international partners, through to not being able to use certain borders due to political landscapes.

A certain far cry from building a people transformation strategy or the like, but both situations draw parallels on process management and being able to adapt to scenarios. In his company now, Chris uses this experience to addresses the issue of the gap between strategy and execution, often the result of planning procedures that lack quality and stress-resistance.

So, how do you decide what to do and how to do it? Primarily, the best answer to this proved to be “Pressure Tests” – getting the relevant stakeholders in a room and discuss through a number of scenarios that are then simulated. When businesses are looking to embark on widespread change and transformation projects, or something more isolated such as a new product launch, then this process is an effective way of working through the problem.

Here are a few ways to use this methodology.

Different types of pressure tests:

  • Ideas vs. likely outcomes.

  • Pre-mortem: Imaging the worst case scenarios and why they could happen

  • Thinking Outside In

So what are the top tips for effective stress testing

  • Timing:

Run stress tests as early as you can. The biggest mistake is going through these exercises once something is already signed off by the board and close to kicking off. ​

  • Stakeholders:

Get as many relevant stakeholders in the room as possible (this was hundreds in the example of the Afghan Strategy). Make these as relevant as possible e.g. if you’re in a regulated industry, get a regulator in. If you’re in a politically charged industry, look to include those contrasting views.

  • Objectivity:

Similar to the above, having those with “no invested interest” is useful. Those outside of the organisation are great; including clients is even better allowing you to co-create solutions alongside your clients.

  • Training/Coaching/Prep:

To this end, it’s vital that you prepare delegates and those involved in the pressure tests in advance.

It is important not to just run the tests but to work out what’s going to go wrong, and how to avoid it. By acting on these outputs you are able to address solutions. Chris also shared a rule for leaders from his military days: ‘The 1/3, 2/3 rule’ i.e. in any pressure situation, you take 1/3 of the allotted time to think yourself, and the other 2/3 to consult. The majority of leaders spend 90% of the time thinking themselves and then ask for a rubber stamp from others. Complex problems need plenty of consulting, lots of opinions and heads being put together.

If you would like to learn more then please check out the below links:

A lesson in vulnerability: how to lead when others know more than you: https://youtu.be/1AuH4FKg4qs

Empowering your team through a framework: https://youtu.be/xyiwL3da51o

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