Are you a hardy perennial, or a fleeting annual?

For many of us, this time of year – with a new financial year just days away – is all about looking to the future and setting out our plans and goals for the year ahead:  what we will be doing, and how we’ll be doing it.

Unusually for me, I’ve also been finding myself thinking about the garden this week.  I’m not sure why – perhaps it was the rather strange sensation of planning the Easter weekend whilst contemplating the snowy scene out of my window.  Now that the snow has melted and the sun has come out, it feels much more like spring – and I can already see signs of new life and new growth.

Now I’m not in any way a gardener.  The only things I know about gardening I learned from my grandparents – so I can show you how to dead-head a marigold, I know the difference between sandy and clay soil, and I know what a greenhouse full of growing tomatoes smells like.  But I also know the difference between an ‘annual’ and a ‘perennial’ – and believe it or not, that’s the link to planning!

We’re living in times of momentous change.  Those of us who work in the private sector are working out how to survive and thrive in times of recession, when customers’ changing lifestyles and buying habits mean that existing business models can rapidly become out of date.  Jessops and HMV are really good examples of the devastating effects that can have.

And those of us who work in the public sector are grappling with budgets that are reducing significantly in real terms at a time of rapidly increasing demand for services.

So in our response to these challenges, do we act like an ‘annual’ or a ‘perennial’?

For anyone who’s not sure, ‘annuals’ are plants which grow for a season and then die – like sunflowers or petunias.  It’s only the seeds they produce during that season that live on and lead to new growth.  ‘Perennials’, like lavender and snapdragons, regrow every spring.

For many organisations, the approach to the planning cycle in the past has mirrored the approach of the ‘hardy perennial’:  we dig around a bit, add a bit of fertiliser, and tend the plant so that it grows bigger and better than it did the year before.

Of course, that’s all fine if the conditions around the plant remain the same from year to year - but what if everything has changed?  If a sheltered spot has become exposed, for example, or if it’s snowing when it should be warm and sunny?

Organisations that think like ‘fleeting annuals’ do really well in rapidly changing conditions.  They know there’s a kernel of their current organisation that will go on to bring new life in the year ahead – but they’re open to everything else changing.  They’re prepared – in fact, they’re fully expecting – for what exists now to not be around in the future, and that frees them up to plan for the future in a way that makes them more likely to survive and thrive.

‘Dragon’ Peter Jones has been talking today about buying out Jessops – and how he’s anticipating future success by totally changing the business model.  The kernel of the business will remain the same (they’ll still sell cameras, and will still have a national high street presence), but a lot of other things will be different. 

It’s a great pity for the staff and creditors of Jessops that the organisation had to go into administration before it was possible to achieve that sort of radical change – but perhaps if we learn their lesson and do our future planning more like a sunflower than a snapdragon, we can face the future with more confidence.


Posted 90 weeks ago