We have a saying in our business: ‘The plan is nothing, but planning is everything.’ The past year has certainly tested the validity of this statement like never before! The ability to implement a change of plan is a true test of leadership and the key to doing so successfully is surely communication. Communication with others for sure, but also with ourselves as leaders, by having the capacity to reflect and embrace positively the need for a new course of action.
With a former military leader on our team, we are all aware that ‘no plan survives contact with the enemy’. That is, no plan ever gets implemented 100% as originally written. The unexpected happens, we discover that we’ve made incorrect assumptions or inaccurate calculations, someone on the team gets ill, equipment fails, customers don’t respond the way we expected. It becomes clear that we need a change of plan.
At times like this, it’s important to remember the words of *Jimmy Dean: “I can’t change the direction of the wind, but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” As long as the leader at the helm remains focused on WHAT we are trying to achieve and WHY, then our destination remains clear and we can adjust our sails, our approach and actions, accordingly.
Like any good captain, we must communicate the need for a change of plan, providing not just clarity but also reassurance, to ourselves as well as to others.
We advocate thinking about it from three different perspectives:
The importance of self-talk when in a leadership role should not be overlooked. How we speak to ourselves impacts everything, and in a situation where we are forced into a change of plan we must reflect on our own feelings. Are we bitter, angry or resentful that the plan has to change, or happy that we are on top of this and mature enough to make such changes? How we react is simply a choice, and for the change of plan to succeed we must do so positively.
Our communication with others on a one-to-one basis has enormous impact, on both the individual concerned and in the form of a ripple effect on the wider team. We must be aware of who may have a greater need for personalised communication about the change of plan, someone who may be more affected by the change than others. What help and support do we need to give them? Handling this communication effectively will set the tone for the rest of the team as they will either become an advocate for the change or a damaging resistant force.
What true leadership do we need to show when addressing the whole team? Authenticity is important and explaining that things have changed – but that everything is okay – demonstrates vulnerability. In being open about the need for a change of plan we must remind them that the WHAT (destination) and WHY (purpose) have not changed. We must also issue a new call to action, giving clear direction rather than detailed instructions, together with new success metrics.
In preparing for these conversations, by taking time to sit quietly and consider our communications, we are more likely to keep heading towards our destination together.
If we can help you and your team adapt your plan to survive and thrive in this VUCA world, please get in touch.
* Footnote: Jimmy Dean certainly lived in the spirit of this quote. As a country music singer, TV presenter, actor and founder of the Jimmy Dean sausage brand, he navigated many a change of plan throughout his long and successful career.