“I love it when a plan comes together.”
I recognize that I am seriously dating myself by acknowledging that phrase takes me back to the 1980’s television show “The A-Team.” Uttered with a smirk of confidence by Col. Hannibal Smith, at the successful conclusion of efforts whose outcome appeared anything but assured, his words are a reminder that reaching an important goal is often messy and includes unintended twists and turns. That is why it is so critical for everyone on your team to be crystal clear on, and committed to, the identified outcome.
Far too often we focus on the plan, the steps we intend to take, rather than the intended end goal. Now, I am a big believer in plans . . . as a starting point, as our best thinking at the beginning of an effort. That said, I can’t think of a single major initiative that played out exactly as I thought it would when I was working on the plan. I have written before about the importance of the military concept “Commanders Intent,” which clearly identifies what success looks like so WHEN things don’t go as planned, those involved can make the best decision at the moment.
As a leader, where is your focus . . . on the plan or on the target? We have to be able to model that when the variables change, our plan may also need to change. To do that, however, we have to keep our eyes on the horizon, not solely on the next step in our plan. And, we have to give our people the autonomy to do the same. Often times, they are closer to “the front line.” They are aware of important information that we can’t see from our vantage point. In your organization, do those on “the front lines” feel safe enough to speak up when they identify a barrier to success? Do you listen to them when they do?
The trouble is, we tend to fall in love with our plans. We convince ourselves that, as a result of our wisdom and experience, we have it all figured out. Except we usually don’t. What if, instead, we considered our plans to be the starting point and we let our people know that we expected that plan would have to change over time? How much easier would it be for them to speak up if you as the leader clearly communicated that it was their job to look for possible pitfalls and to identify alternate routes to your intended destination?
Much of the excitement and energy on The A-Team came as a result of how the team creatively changed course when Plan A (or B) was no longer feasible. There may be fewer pyrotechnics in your organization than on a TV show, but the same type of energy and excitement can be unleashed when you trust your team to find the best path forward. And when that happens, feel free to smirk and proudly announce, “I love it when a plan comes together.”