I was travelling last Sunday. Not uncommon but not often. I avoid Sunday travel wherever possible. Most of my travel is to the US which means mid-late morning flights from Heathrow. So a Sunday departure inevitably involves a 7:00am pick up from home. Sunday travel is a full day…a full day when I am not at home.
I have used the same airport taxi service for just about the last ten years. I know the owner personally and trust him and his team enough to use them if I ever need a car for my wife, or children or all of us. He is professional, considerate, flexible and responsive. And reliable. I can count the number of times in ten years that he has been late on the fingers of one hand. He has never missed a pick up.
Until last Sunday. 7:00am. I was ready, dressed, packed. Washed and caffeinated. I had said my good byes and was waiting. Waiting. Ten after seven I sent a text message to check. Two minutes later my phone rang. The booking was not in the system. It was confirmed in my calendar. Just not his.
He was as apologetic as he was distraught on the phone. He was on his way now and would be with me in twenty minutes. I was good. It was Sunday morning. Traffic would be between light and non-existent. I knew we would be on time.
It was an exception. As we were driving we worked out what had happened. At least three or four uncommon or rare events coinciding to happen at the same time. Any one of them individual not happening would have prevented the exception. In many ways that is what defines an exception – something or someone that does not follow the normal rules.
Not that it was my decision to make, but I advised against changing his booking process. Redefining strategy based on an exception should always be avoided…in much the same way that defining strategy by exception is never a good idea.
Strategy is most simply a plan of action to achieve an overall aim. Good strategy – like a good overall or long term objective – should stand the test of time. Good strategy simply should not need regular revision. Regular review yes – absolutely. Just not revision.
Revision of strategy should only really happen in light of a change in the overall aim. A bigger goal, shorter time, different goal. Any one of these will often lead to an adjustment in strategy. Similarly any significant change in the environment we are operating – regulations, financials, competition to name just three – can often lead to strategy adjustment. All this is both good and important.
Just not strategy by exception.
Having considered the sequence of events leading to my taxi not being outside at 7:00am last Sunday, I was absolutely certain that scenario would never happen again. No changes were needed to how bookings were made or received or confirmed or checked. It was an exception. And there is no value in changing strategy based on an exception.
Human nature can tell us differently – we feel the need to learn and respond. And intrinsically this is a good motivation. But any learning based on an exception – something that won’t ever happen again – is by definition of little value. Changing strategy based on an exception is at best a bad idea. At worst it can create all sorts of unintended consequences.
Exceptional strategy features clarity in what we are trying to achieve and provides confidence in our plan of action to achieve. Exceptional events should be understood and even enjoyed…nothing else.