Those businesses which learn from recent experiences are always best placed to succeed, says KEITH ANDERSON
‘The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men, Gang aft agley”
These famous lines from Robert Burns’ poem To a Mouse remain as apt today as when written in the second half of the 18th century. For those not familiar with the poem, Burns has inadvertently destroyed the nest or home of a mouse with his plough. He apologises for that and the general tyranny of man in nature and reflects mournfully on the role of fate in the life of every creature, himself included. The dominant theme is of the futility of planning for a hopeful future when it can be dashed by unforeseen circumstances.
To a greater or lesser extent that sense of hopelessness may resonate with many. This time last year as we emerged from the worst rigours of the Covid19 pandemic who would have predicted what lay ahead?
While there were geopolitical tensions and, in particular, the threat of an invasion of Ukraine, these seemed less imminent than turned out to be the case. What has unfolded in Ukraine was still unexpected and few would have predicted its devastating effects, most directly for the people of Ukraine and the conscripts to the Russian war effort.
What followed has been well documented and its economic impact, on top of everything else, felt throughout the West. In the UK higher inflation has caused significant problems for consumers and producers, employees and employers, and the future for a vibrant growing economy, in the long term, and short term, is even less clear than usual.
So what to do when your plans have gone ‘agley’?
In the poem, Burns laments that the mouse is fortunate as it only knows the present, but Burns can look back on disappointment, which means he looks forward with fear.
Certainly, it would be unwise for us to assume that the future will be rosy. The events of recent years offer few obvious signs for optimism, but it has not all been doom and gloom and just as there have been opportunities for those that have identified them in the past, so there will be opportunities in the future. And although it is early days, the economic signs appear to be looking better for the second half of this year and into 2024.
So, we need to cast off any reservations about what might be coming round the corner and plan for the future. Those businesses which make such plans and learn from recent challenges are always best placed to succeed. It was already the case that those businesses which had learned the lessons of the COVID-19 pandemic, were thriving. New working patterns and ways of communicating together with technological advances are now well established and these will lead to changes in the routes to market and market conditions generally.
Much has happened in a short time since the beginning of this decade and there is surely more to come. As ever there are challenges, but in the words of the old proverb it’s always darkest before the dawn.
In the legal industry, there has been change and that continues apace. Service models that were once considered new are now part of the legal landscape and that change will gather further momentum driven by client demand and the expectations of lawyers themselves.
It has been said before, but bears repetition, that any lawyer is only as good as his clients, and that is especially true in the areas of practice in which we advise.
We continue to be inspired by our clients’ entrepreneurship, energy, imagination, and sheer determination as they adapt to the economic challenges. In the last 18 months, we have been able to play a small part in supporting many businesses and business owners to achieve the realisation of their dreams, all of whom dared to look forward with hope. And each had a plan.
A final thought on planning for uncertainty is to concentrate on those things that are certain, namely customers or clients and your people. At the centre of any plan must surely be the customer or client, and our people.
Without customers or clients, a business has no need for people and without people there can be no customers or clients. The oldest and simplest way in which to grow a business is to do a great job for the customer or client, and that is more likely to be the result if your people feel valued, invested in, and motivated.
We hear so much of the poor productivity that is the scourge of UK industry and how might that be improved if business took greater care of its people?
And, of course, Robert Burns also wrote “To a Louse”, which encourages a healthy dose of self-awareness which is no bad thing either.
Keith Anderson is CEO of Edinburgh-based legal services business Vialex