Plan for the best, but always be prepared for the worst

Most everyone knows the responsibility of that perpetually stern, immaculately dressed member of the military who walks a few paces behind the president of the United States. This service member is carrying the infamous briefcase, commonly referred to as the football.

This high-tech satchel contains the codes to open secured safes at command posts on land and at sea that house an envelope with secret instructions to launch a last-resort nuclear strike.

In 1908, the Boy Scouts adopted the motto: “Be Prepared,” which is good advice that the United States is following — and so should your company.

Virtually every organization has a 12-month plan, which includes financial projections and the source and use of funds coming in and out during the fiscal year. These plans typically include best, worst and most likely cases of what is expected to occur and are the Holy Grail for all involved in generating sales and profits. The reality is, however, precious few companies have a predetermined action plan for significant downturns in business or Armageddon-type events that can send a business — with little warning — into the tank, or much worse.

This is where your company football comes into play as it would contain highly confidential preliminary action plans, some of which will likely be painful steps involving various financial cuts that will have to be taken if worst comes to worst. The contingency outline should be crafted sequentially once the more painstaking development of the annual strategy is complete.

This OMG scenario must include degrees of severity on both ends of the spectrum from a moderate slowdown all the way to a major, draconian event that becomes a matter of survival of the fittest. The architects of this backup alternative road map cannot be relegated to a few second-string accountants, but must involve the same decision-makers who created the main budget.

If trouble strikes, your Plan B will provide an instant starting point of what must happen when, and who does what. There are two major benefits of having an alternative strategy at hand. First, in times of a real crisis when emotions are high, and stress is even higher, the team won’t have to start at ground zero developing alternatives with hastily thought-out possible solutions. Secondly, this subordinate scheme can be very useful in crystallizing activities and line-item expenses that perhaps the company doesn’t even need in good times, but surface as management devises standby methods.

This critical set of documents, your football, should be kept securely locked in a drawer of your desk in an official-looking envelope marked, (drama added for emphasis) “Open in case of emergency.” This will serve as a visual reminder of the content’s importance.

Today, all cars have air bags and businesses have fire extinguishers in every corner. And think of jet fighter pilots who never take off without parachutes strapped to their backs. All these examples are precautions that everyone hopes will never be activated. Your company football is in this same category, and just like a good Boy Scout, it’s simply a matter of always being prepared.

Michael Feuer co-founded OfficeMax and in 16-years, as CEO, grew the retailer to sales of $5 billion in 1,000 stores worldwide.