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Comment: Stratford-upon-Avon, the English Florence

By Græme Gordon, Executive Director, Praxity

As I write, the weekend which has just passed was one on which my wife and I were due to enjoy a few convivial days in Florence, along with 30 friends from the Worshipful Company of Chartered Accountants. I say ‘due to’ as, less than 24 hours before our flight from Heathrow, the travel agent and guide e-mailed to cancel the trip due to ‘personal’ circumstances.

Many of us were inclined to go anyway – not only were we looking forward to being together, but Florence is also a wonderful city. I’ve long believed, and often said, that Florence is my favourite of all the cities I have visited.

However, it proved unusually difficult to confirm first the flights and then the hotel rooms on our itinerary.  The good auspices of one of my Italian colleagues finally confirmed that no rooms had in fact been reserved and, although she did offer to find us alternatives, the Master of the Company convinced us that it would be prudent to cancel the trip altogether, and recoup the money from the travel agent.

Our investigations suggested an apparent lack of proper planning by our agent.

Sharon (my wife) and I decided that as we’d made all the necessary arrangements for house-sitting and ‘doggy day-care’, we would have a weekend away regardless.

So, on to the ubiquitous Internet to explore where to go at short notice and for a quick trawl of last-minute deals. This led to a joint thought that we’d love to return to Stratford-upon-Avon, as a family issue had shortened our last trip to only a few hours. Approximately 30 minutes of detailed planning, internet-searching, advance paying and confirmation later, we had secured a weekend in a hotel less than 20 minutes’ gentle walk from the town centre, and tickets for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Saturday night performance of Anthony & Cleopatra.

While I will not claim any credit for the weather over the weekend, which was very Florentine like – i.e. perfect – the weekend and hotel were quite wonderful. There are a lot of good restaurants in Stratford, which vary from single-chef local ones, via the better end of national chains, to the inevitable international fast food outlets.  We chose our restaurants with Florence in mind too and enjoyed lovely Italian-style meals both nights, with good Tuscan wine.  I would also wholeheartedly recommend the hotel.  Once a very large stately home where most of the original character has been retained, it may now be a little ‘worn’ at the edges but the beds were comfortable and the staff most welcoming.  All as the Trip Advisor brief had said.

While this was intended as a relaxing weekend – and it was – it also offered a salutary lesson for those in management. The rule of ‘7Ps’ comes to mind here, and is one I always try to instil in my colleagues.

Perfect Preparation Prevents [very] Poor Performance, Probably.

No preparation, however thorough, can be certain to produce perfect results. But I would contend that no preparation at all or inadequate or partial preparation are almost certain to lead to unforeseen results, and can be disastrous.

Now I cannot say that our agent did not adequately prepare, as I don’t have all the knowledge.  However, the evidence I have would suggest that he did not sufficiently plan, so that he could cope when his personal issues arose.  In contrast, even though it was only during a 30-minute internet trawl, my wife and I planned all aspects, leaving time to review our proposed arrangements and consider their implications before committing.

Planning like this is nothing new.  In fact, to invoke the spirit of Florence again, it was a key argument that Machiavelli made in his renowned manual for prospective leaders, The Prince. If you go even further back and further afield, it is a key precept in the writings of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, from the fifth century BCE.

So, don’t just take my word for it. Just don’t forget the ‘7Ps’!

Graeme Gordon is Executive Director of Praxity Global Alliance, the world’s largest alliance of independent accounting firms. This article was first published on his blog on the Praxity Website.

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