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Stress-testing your Plan

Ben Legg
Former COO of Google, Europe

Learning outcomes

  • Questions to run through when stress-testing a plan
  • The importance of building a team to mitigate your biases as a leader

Executive Bio

Ben Legg

Former COO of Google, Europe

Ben is an engineer by training and spent over 10 years in the Royal Engineers in the British Army career before moving to McKinsey. In 2002, he moved to Coca-Cola where he ran teams across Eastern Europe before turning around the Indian business leading 12,000 salespeople. Ben then moved to Google where was COO of UK and Ireland for 2 years before being promoted to COO Europe where he was responsible for writing the monetisation blueprint of Google’s various properties. This involved defining the role of ad units, properties, interactions with agencies and partners, and devising how auctions should work. Ben then ran a Yellow Pages turnaround before running an ad-tech business for 6 years which ran $200m of ad spend through the major technology platforms. Ben is the author of Marketing for CEO’s and is on the Board of The Oxford Foundry where he is a mentor and investor to multiple startups. Read more

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Interview Transcript

Do you have any frameworks you use to stress-test a situation?

Yes. If you want to work out, “Is this a good plan?” get more than yourself involved. Get people involved. I’m one of the world’s biggest optimists; I know that. Most people’s strengths are also their weakness. My optimism is awesome, I energise a lot of people, but I sometimes overlook problems, so I like to have a few pessimists around. Often from finance or legal, but it doesn’t have to be. Teams need balance to look at things from every angle.

An important part of every plan is, “What could go wrong?” Maybe have a structured list of questions. Why do we think customers will buy this? Why do we think the price is right? What would competitors do if we launched this product? Will the suppliers work with it? What happens if it’s a runaway success; how will the supply chain cope? Have we dotted the I’s and crossed the T’s from a legal perspective? We think it’ll work in the UK; why do we think it’ll work in Germany? Having a good list of questions and getting the right people saying, “Have we thought it all through?” That’s generally the best way of doing things. If you have time, you can say, “What is plan B or C?”

There are two ways of doing things. If you’re in a bit of a hurry, there’s only one plan, but you stress-test it as much as you can and you know, if it goes wrong, you’ll have to do a pivot. A lot of companies are in a hurry, and that’s the best way of working. If you have time, let’s say it’s the biggest launch ever for a new product or a new country for your company, you probably need a plan B or C. It’s probably worth taking the time to write alternative plans as well, just in case — not in as much detail, but knowing you have other plans.

You’ve realised you’re an optimist. How do you foster that level of self-awareness? Did you have to be told you’re an optimist?

That often came in feedback, people saying, “Ben, you’re too much of an optimist; you need to calm down.” 360 feedback, strengths would come out, “Infectious energy, really creative, thinks he can change the world.” Weaknesses would be, “Doesn’t look for risks, doesn’t dot the I’s and cross the T’s,” or, “Because he’s enthusiastic, everyone else is automatically enthusiastic, even though they don’t know what their role is in the mission.” You get that feedback and say, “I need to change a bit and mitigate my weaknesses with team members who will fill in the gaps.”

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