Time to Act

time to act ext on wooden cubes on a wooden background“It is easier to act your way into a new way of thinking than to think your way into a new way of acting.”

I’ve seen this insight, and variations thereof, credited to a number of different people — probably because of the innate truth of the statement. And yet, how often do we as leaders get so hung up on developing our plans . . . to change the culture, to launch a new initiative, to pursue a strategic direction . . . that we never really get around to doing anything.

Now let me be clear, I am a big proponent of plans (as anyone who works with me can attest). According to Google, the definition of a plan is “a detailed proposal for doing or achieving something; an intention or decision about what on is going to do.” The end result of the effort is to do, to act . . . not to create the perfect plan!

Have you ever had a plan thrust on you from some external source and thought the concept probably made a lot of sense to someone sitting in an office somewhere, but from a practical application standpoint it was not possible/made no sense/had numerous unintended consequences? Yep. What do you think the chances are that someone has ever had that thought about one of your well-crafted plans?

That is why it is better to view plans as fluid, living documents. Get a basic understanding of your end goal, get the project rolling, and then adapt as you get new information. Act your way into a new way of thinking. Because here’s the deal . . . there is no way to anticipate all of the variables you will encounter at the beginning of an initiative — no matter how much time and effort was put into developing the plan. Detailed plans may make us feel better . . . rigidly sticking to them, however, may actually diminish our results.

I can’t tell you how many times we have encountered totally unexpected opportunities because we acted, and then were willing to adapt our plan along the way. Hear me loud and clear, adapting a plan doesn’t mean the plan failed . . . it means the plan moved you to the point that you had new information with which to make a better decision.

Get clear on your end goal — your intent — and then yes, identify the best that you know at the time, along with the unknown but important variables, to develop a plan. Don’t expect it to be perfect. Expect it to be enough to start, to move you in the right direction. And then . . . it’s time to act.

Spring Rains

spring white flower in the rainHave you ever noticed that in the Springtime, entire landscapes can change in a day? One well-timed rain shower can make entire hillsides come to life, blooming with energy and possibilities. Of course, that only happens if the seeds for that growth were already there. Sure, they may have been dormant during the stark cold winter, but they were in the right place, just waiting for the Spring rains.

Nature is patient. We leaders . . . sometimes not so much. We want to plant seeds — in terms of our people, our plans, our vision — and then have them immediately germinate and bloom. Unfortunately, that is not the way it works. You have to plant bulbs in the fall, before the frost and gray skies of Winter, if you want them to flower in the Spring . . . or cultivate seeds in the Spring to reap the harvest in late summer or fall. But it is Springtime, after the brown and sometimes frigid Winter, that the transformation is most obvious.

What does a “Spring rain” look like in your organization? Perhaps a major opportunity comes your way that you are positioned to take advantage of because you have been preparing your people and organization for just such a situation. Some (i.e. those who didn’t plan ahead) will label such opportunities as a lucky break. Seneca described that kind of luck as a situation where “preparation meets opportunity”. The Spring rains bring the opportunity. You as the leader are responsible for the preparation part.

Preparing for the Spring rains means you can’t just focus on this week’s weather forecast. Yes, you have to be aware of it for other reasons, but this week’s weather has little to do with what the next season holds. As a leader, you have to adapt to the current storms, but ultimately you also have to plant the seeds for the subsequent season. And then you have to wait. That’s the catch, isn’t it? We are so accustomed to instant gratification, immediate return on investment, focusing the next quarter’s outcomes, that investing in the long term can seem like a quaint but unrealistic concept. Maybe the unrealistic part is not the concept, but our expectations as leaders.

The Spring rains will come. Perhaps not exactly when you want them to, and sometimes to a greater or lesser degree than you would ideally like, but they will come. The question is whether you have prepared your organizational landscape to blossom and burst with new life when the time comes. For those leaders who recognize their critical role as a patient cultivator . . . who have experienced Spring’s beauty . . . nothing is more satisfying than sitting back and watching it rain!

Frame It

Colorful Paper Clip With Pile Of Paper Reports Arranged On Table

Think of the forests that would be standing today if not for weighty strategic plans — you know, those tomes that come from months of time consuming effort, the result of which is so thickly detailed that some poor soul is likely to strain a muscle lifting its numerous pages onto a shelf . . . where it will sit collecting dust until a few years down the road when the process starts all over again. Save the tree.

I absolutely believe that good strategy is critical for organizational success. I also happen to believe that most strategic plans are outdated before they ever hit said shelf (and they stay on the shelf for that very reason) because they are built around a specific set of variables that can change at the drop of a hat. So if strategy is critical, but strategic plans don’t work, what is a leader to do? Frame it.

A strategic framework identifies a few (like two or three) main areas of focus and a small number of indicators of success. That’s it. It identifies what you are working toward, and how you will know when you get there, but does not define (plan) the how. That happens along the way. Yes, I realize a number of readers who really like black and white details just started twitching. Hang with me . . .

A strategic framework applies the concept of emergent strategy, where ongoing observation, reflection and feedback enable leaders to adapt their actions as needed in response to changing variables to most effectively reach the intended goal. Re-read that sentence. You’ve got to admit, it really does make a lot of sense. Things are going to change on the way to your vision, so why would you want to put huge amounts of time into developing a plan that acts like they won’t?

In addition, the brevity of a strategic framework allows for much greater clarity of focus. How much easier is it for your staff to remember two key areas of focus than it is to remember a 47 point plan? How much more powerful is a targeted one page document than a ream of objectives, tactics and additional sub-points. Which do you think is going to excite your staff, and make them want to get on board with where you’re going?

Don’t be fooled. A boiled down, targeted framework takes effort to develop. Clarity of focus, simply stated, takes discipline, it is hard to achieve . . . It is also powerful, and motivating, and provides the direction staff need to continually adapt to a volatile environment and still reach the end goal.

The strategy is simple. Ditch the plan, save a tree, identify your destination . . . And frame it.