Always Remember Your Sunscreen and Umbrella

In the 20-plus years I’ve been in the professional world working in business strategy, one of the most interesting lessons I’ve learned is to never show up to a meeting sunburned* or soaking wet. I know this seems silly – but stay with me.

How can someone trust me to help guide the future of their organization if I can’t foresee something as simple as too much sun exposure resulting in a burn? Or, how could others trust me to protect their business if I can’t take the small precaution of having an umbrella nearby in case of rain? And they are right – the parallels of this example to business strategy are striking. That’s why I always remember my sunscreen and umbrella.

As a strategist, it’s my job to help clients chart their paths to a successful future. That requires numerous steps such as research, establishing the mission, vision, and values, and developing goals and implementation plans to put it all into action. And just as important, we must anticipate the challenges and risks of the strategy – both known and unknown. Once you have done the hard work of developing your strategy, you have to sit back and ask whether or not you have reasonable safeguards in place for foreseeable risks to your business.

For example, if you are preparing to launch a new initiative, what change management strategies are you incorporating to ensure it is well received? If you are entering into a new market, what research can you quickly do to better understand that market’s nuances? There are simple things we can do to save us from getting burned (pun intended). This is your sunscreen.

Rain, on the other hand, is unpredictable. It often comes out of nowhere, and even a little can leave us soaked if we’re not prepared. But, it’s pretty easy to bring a small umbrella along as insurance against uncertainty or unforeseeable risks. It’s not going to protect you in a hurricane or a tornado, but it will come in handy with those everyday storms.

Similarly, when we devise our strategy, we probably can’t fortify our business against all risks. But, there are things we can easily do that can help safeguard our strategy and outcomes just a bit more. Some examples:

If your business is moving into a new chapter, instead of relying on one leader for guidance, appoint a cross-functional leadership team to provide thorough perspective and direction.

Say your business has a proprietary product or knowledge – it’s good practice to explore the intellectual property application process proactively to be prepared.

You’re getting serious about a potential business deal. Be sure to have a lawyer (or a second set of eyes) review also.

So, when it comes to your organization’s strategic plan, step back and take a moment to ask:

1. “Do I have my sunscreen?” – What are the things I can easily do to shield the business from known risks?

2. “Do I have my umbrella?” – What can I do to build in simple safeguards for the things I don’t know?

We can develop the best goals, the smartest strategy, and the most intricate implementation plans, but we must also integrate reasonable safeguards for both the anticipated and unanticipated risks to ensure we’re truly positioned for success.

*May is Melanoma Awareness Month and a great opportunity to share the importance of protecting yourself and your family against this deadly form of skin cancer before the summer months roll around. The majority of melanomas are found on the skin, are caused by UV exposure, and most cases are considered to be preventable with simple sun safety measures like sunscreen. Why is melanoma so dangerous? Because it can quickly and easily spread from its original site and metastasize throughout the body.

We take skin cancer prevention and sun safety very seriously as our own Stacey Sepp was diagnosed with Stage 4 melanoma in 2021. Stacey was extremely fortunate with her response to treatment, and has been cancer free since January 2022.

The number of new melanoma cases has steadily increased for the last 30 years, claiming the lives of more than 7,000 Americans every year. It is the leading cause of cancer death in young women ages 25-30 and the second leading cause of cancer death in women ages 30-35. To learn more, visit the Melanoma Research Foundation or AIM at Melanoma Foundation.