Sometimes changing direction midstream is the best display of leadership.
There's a scenario that might sound familiar. Times are difficult at your company. The turnaround plan you developed last year was just right for the needs of the organisation — or so you thought — but for some reason, it's just not going anywhere. The plan is underfunded and under-resourced, momentum has slowed to a crawl, and stakeholder enthusiasm has waned. You even detect the beginnings of hallway grumbling. What should you do - hold fast or scrap everything in favour of a new plan?
Now is the time to plumb the depths of your resourcefulness and reach for a flexible leadership style. First, repeat after me: The greatest plan, unimplemented, is not worth the paper it's written on. Your objective is to get things done — even if it requires undoing a lot of previous effort. Letting go of preconceived notions is the first order of business, but it's sometimes the hardest thing to do. The current plan might indeed be the best one for your company, but if you appear to be closed to alternatives, that could sound the plan's death knell. Here are some things you can do to show that you're open to change — if it's in the right direction.
Lay the foundation. An important element of success will be the foundation you lay for change. Begin to "unfreeze" the environment that is set on the current plan. Point out changes in the market that could impact your strategy. Highlight competitors' actions that demonstrate their adaptability. Collect examples of the failures that can be attributed to unwillingness to change. You should consider all your constituencies when devising communiques about what the future holds. Senior executives, the business partners, your staff, even vendors, will have a stake in any new direction to be pursued. Now is not the time to surprise them.
Analyse the blocks. Assess why the current plan doesn't seem to be working. Is the business less committed to it than you originally thought? Have there been significant changes in the company's financial circumstances? Are technology changes introducing fear of early obsolescence? Are people's skills inadequate for the task? Has the risk elevated? Understanding these issues - their depth and breadth - will help you craft a solution that will fit the changing nature of the problem and establish new priorities.
Re-engineer or redo. Perhaps you can hold on to your vision for change but approach the implementation differently. Be creative, and keep the focus on what it will take to get things moving. Back in the heyday of re-engineering, I had a project that just couldn't get past first base. Everyone expressed support, but it just didn't happen. I realised that the proposed change was just too radical for the environment, technically and organisationally. We revised our approach to allow for a more gradual, phased implementation. The solution was not as elegant, it cost more and took longer than the original business plan, but it helped us accomplish our goals.
Other re-engineering actions to consider include aiming for easier or more concrete targets, eliminating some steps and using a zigzag path to your destination rather than a straight-line plan. Is there a 90 per cent solution that will work? Now might be the time to say: "Why not give it a try?"
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