What’s Your Plan B?

The other day I was engaged in a conversation with a colleague talking about upcoming furloughs in our organization.  These temporary layoffs resulting from budgetary constrictions have been advertised for some time, but only now have become imminent.  My co-worker was agitated about why this was happening and generally angry about the impact on their life.  I asked what their plan was if the furloughs extended into the future, say the coming year, and they looked at me like I had two heads.  Plan?  What was I talking about?  Their agitation quickly moved from the furlough to me. 

What happened during this conversation I’ve seen repeated a hundred times during my career.  It goes something like this: person is presented with a less-than-desirable situation; person gets angry at the system/event/situation; and person expends all of their energy raging against the transgression.  Nowhere in this cycle is there a “Plan B”, an alternate to the current or impending state of affairs.  But this isn’t surprising, since the vast majority don’t plan for the obstacles life erects, let alone for the worst case.  Because we don’t see worst case situations occurring our life all that often we don’t develop alternate plans for what we’ll do if we get furloughed, transferred to a new division, or see the contract we’re on expire.

Building a Plan B isn’t just smart, it’s a necessity and it has nothing to do with the current economy, globalization, or some other issue du jour in the A/E industry.  But far too many elect to not think about building a Plan B because of the perceived time it will take or the difficulty of even figuring out where to begin. Take a page from emergency first responders and spend some time planning for possible negative scenarios. It’s too late to do the planning when you’re already mired in bad situation.  At that point you go from deliberate to crisis planning and with that shift comes decisions made on emotion versus rational thought.

Your Plan B can be as detailed as you want it to be, but my one suggestion is that you pin it to specific “red lines” with where you stand today.  Link it to a drop in benefits, a lay-off, or when the amount of hours you’re putting in exceed a specific threshold.  Or you could pin it to intangibles like recognition, gut feelings about your likelihood for promotion, or satisfaction with your work in general.  However you decide to set the red line, you need to operate with parameters.  Waiting for a catastrophic event to put you in crisis planning mode with your career, and livelihood, is nothing less than stupid.  Yes, a strong word for it, but that’s what it is.

Having your Plan B gives you confidence with where you stand today because you always have an alternative that you can implement.  Instead of raging against the system, you can exit the system and do something else.  The additional benefit of Plan B is that it gives you options, and in the end, we all want options.

“The most successful people are those who are good at plan B.”  James Yorke

Christian Knutson, P.E., PMP is a leader, civil engineer, and author.  He’s an accomplished professional specializing in A/E/C work internationally and author of The Engineer Leader, a recognized blog on leadership and life success for engineers and professionals.