What are the key questions that need to be asked when discussing any budget or strategy proposal? I have just found the answer, from a master in the field.
Sir Maurice Hodgson is recognised as one of the greatest ICI Chairmen. Under him, the company became a truly global leader, moving away from its ‘imperial’ heritage. His stepping stone to this job was in 1965, when he became ICI’s first strategic planner, and in this role he developed the concept for the whole chemical industry.
As he describes it, Hodgson decided that there were ‘3 very specific questions’ that the ICI Board needed to address:
• Where are we going if we don’t change?
• Where would we rather be going?
• How do we need to change to get from one to the other?
Unfortunately, this first question, in my experience, is almost never asked these days.
Today’s ‘default’ position is that the status quo is assumed to be optimum and viable, unless concrete evidence is produced to the contrary. The beauty of Hodgson’s question is that it turns this assumption on its head.
Its ‘default’ position is that the risk of NOT changing is potentially quite high. This provokes quite a different debate, as it forces a discussion to take place on how the future might be different from the past.
Today would be an excellent time to put Hodgson’s questions to the test. As I wrote on 22 October, the consensus forecast for next year is very optimistic. And so, rather than assuming that 2008 will look much like 2007, it might be very revealing for a Board to have an open debate about where the business might be going if indeed, as many now believe, a US recession is just around the corner.
In turn, this would allow debate on Hodgson’s other two questions to take place whilst there is still time for contingency plans to be prepared. Otherwise, there could be a real risk of the company losing control of its own destiny, if circumstances do turn out to be more difficult than is currently expected.