When you want to start up a conversation with someone new, there are several commonly used topics. Given the polarization today, the topic of politics may produce far too many “F” sharps than most of us are comfortable with in polite conversation. So “How ’s the weather?” works. Typical responses you get the basic, “nice”, “sunny”, “rainy”, or if you are from my area, “snowy”. But those are not really the responses you are searching for if you want to keep the conversation going. You want some input.

What can I expect if I visit? What is the forecast and how accurate is the projection being provided? Is it from a barometer in your home, dropping as a storm approaches or is it based on national measurements, updated hourly as the storm approaches? If you say it is going to be sunny, I may start planning for a day off because I have not seen the sun in sooo long. But I don’t want to waste a vacation day. If it is going to rain, I want to find that umbrella hidden in the back of the closet, needlessly carried all day if it does not.

If I am having the conversation with you, I may fall back on the old tried and true, “How ’s your business going?” If your answers are “Good”, “Holding our own”, “Doing ok considering the market”, my curious nature wants to know more. I live in Buffalo. If something is coming, I want to know more. It is good compared to what? As in the weather conversation, how can planning be done with such ambiguous answers? What are you basing that on? What are you monitoring, forecasting with and how often are they checked?

The buzz a few years back was to create a data warehouse. A place to store all things happening in your company so that information could be used for metrics or trending. But like a true brick and mortar building, what it contains is only what you control, what you already know. What happened in the past? It does not give you any clue what the climate is outside. It is also very rigid. It needed to be more fluid. A place that would be fed by multiple streams. Like a lake…yes a Data Lake. Now you can start determining what external winds are blowing, causing the ebb and flow of your business. That is if you include the data streams truly affecting your business and understand how they are. Assuming you get this 100% correct. You know why your business is “good”, now what? What if the answers require change? You have a forecast. What’s your plan?

It is common knowledge a business should have a five year plan. Most do, but that plan is not something you can frame and mount on the wall. It is a rolling 1,825 days. Five years from today will be different than five years from yesterday or tomorrow. Creating a five year plan is a mile stone, not a finish line. It is a never ending series of next step mile stones which are constantly set and changed. Waiting for an annual meeting for review and adjustments would be like waiting for an employee’s annual review to bring all the year’s actions up for correction. You would have missed improvement opportunities to both. How do you determine what new influencers are in play and compensations need to be put in place? You are building a forecast. What’s your plan to keep it updated?

You don’t need to be a multi-national company to experience work silos. Once a business grows to more than one person, responsibilities are divided. You work in your area, making improvements, setting goals, setting up work flows, all based on what you are experiencing in your part of the business. Your data warehouse. How are other streams of information from others with different responsibilities being collected and incorporated into your decision making? Do you have regular S and OP (Sales and Operations) meetings? Expose people to others with different perspectives and opinions. Knowledge is power, lack of it is ignorance. If the weather is changing, does everyone know the forecast? What’s your plan?

As a business consultant, I don’t have the luxury of spending months or years with the people I am consulting. Starting subtle conversations like above and digging into their answers is my method. I have to be able to read a room within minutes to determine who the influences are, who does not want me there because my visit could mean change, what is the best way to convey the idea in my head to theirs. I want to help them know the forecast coming and plan accordingly. It’s not really a skill, it’s not being burdened by years of small changes, influencing an opinion of “that’s just who they are”. Who they are today is the only thing we have to work with helping them develop into tomorrow. How they work today is how the business is run. How can what I say help them understand what the forecast for their roles looks like. How can they take advantage of the sunny days or plan for rougher weather. What changes have taken place over the years to your business making it “what it is”? Can you see it for the potential it could be?

Take it from a Buffalonian: snow in the forecast is never as welcome as sun. But not actioning a plan to deal with that forecast will make it much less pleasant. We’re here to help, no matter the forecast.