The Final Piece
Over the past four weeks, I have discussed four of the five components that are necessary in order to manage complex change. In addition to explaining the meaning of these ideas, I also shared the importance of each and the consequence when a specific element is missing from the equation.
The fifth part to managing a system of change is having an action plan. By all means, it is necessary to have a vision, skills and resources to utilize, and incentives to motivate you. However, it will be incredibly difficult and challenging to get past ‘go’ (and make the first step) if there is not an action plan in place. An equal emphasis must be placed into strategically setting things in motion.
An action plan isn’t just a step-by-step diagram that outlines the exact order in which things must be accomplished. Although, it is important to have the framework from which you can build. This framework will serve as the model for which you plan to arrive at your vision (goal). It is a skeletal system to holds everything in place and provides a foundation. On a deeper level, the model will deploy the strategy or tactics that you will use to get from your existing state to an improved state.
Notice, an action plan isn’t something that can be thrown together quickly. It can take days, weeks, or even months of preparation. In this time, you are strategizing to put yourself and others in the best position to work through the struggles and hardships of change. A plan should be stringent enough to keep everyone on the same page, but versatile enough to make modifications when needed.
3 ‘Musts’ for Developing an Action Plan
In my life, I do my best to live by a specific motto, and for me, developing an action plan is no different. Whether the plan is for a personal or professional growth initiative, the motto is that it needs to be done with intention and purpose. The intention must be to better yourself and others with the purpose to create meaningful and lasting change.
Whether you are building an action plan for a complex change of your own needs, or the initiatives of an organization, there are three points of emphasis to build into your plan. To give an analogy, think of the process of developing an action plan as the work a football team does each week in preparation for their next opponent.
- An action plan does not need to be perfect, but MUST be flexible and open to change in order to meet your needs or the needs of those for whom you are trying to display a model of growth. It does not serve you well to become entrenched and ingrained in a single path towards driving change. Be open, receptive, and (listen) to thoughts and opinions of others. Do not be afraid to make a change to your plan. For example, if a football team has an offensive strategy to attack the gaps in the middle of the field, then what happens if the defense is keeping the offense from doing so? The offense can choose to continue attacking the gaps, or they can look to swing things to the outside where defensive coverage is missing. Be ready to adapt!
- An action plan MUST be monitored and evaluated regularly. If something is repeatedly not working, then there is no need to force it. The longer it is prolonged, the more disengaged the team becomes. Consistent and regular evaluation of your plan will allow yourself or your team to point out strengths, weaknesses, and areas of opportunity. Play to the strengths, remove the weaknesses, and capitalize on the opportunities. In a football game, this would be comparative to making adjustments at the end of a quarter, or giving new assignments at halftime based on the skills and performances of your team relative to what the team is being exposed to.
- An action plan MUST be executed by maximizing the skills and resources that are available. Beginning with the vision in mind, the action plan must account for the skills and resources that are available. More so, the plan must be strategic in how it utilizes them. The question I hear sometimes is ‘what should I do if I have two equally important skills or resources’? My answer is to use them both and don’t pigeonhole yourself or others into a single responsibility. What happens on a football team when the running back just can’t break through the line of scrimmage or get around the end? Do you bench him because his ‘skill’ isn’t working? Did you take the time to know that he is great at running passing routes and can catch really well? Did you try putting him at wide receiver and maximize the full extent of his capabilities?
Have you even been the quarterback of your own change, or the coach of a team that is driving a similar process? In the future, do you anticipate being in a role where it’s going to require you to manage a system of change and developing an action plan will be required? If so, remember these three ideas and incorporate them into the strategy, otherwise, you will find yourself and your team making false starts.
We’ve all heard the phrase ‘jumping the gun’. In other words, starting or beginning an action without being fully prepared. In football, the term is used when one or more offensive players begins moving before the rest of the team is prepared – this is a false start. When managing change within your personal or professional life, an action plan is important to prevent these ‘false starts’.
Provided the action plan is openly shared with everyone with whom has a role in it, then it is designed to eliminate one person working ahead of another. Instead it works in a single, collective effort. Each person has a role or responsibility, and provided everyone performs their task in conjunction with everyone else, then productivity increases.
And, if not?
False starts occur.
As a result of getting ahead of yourself, and beginning before yourself or everyone else is prepared, progress is delayed.
And, what is the result?
You have to take a step back and develop a new plan. Compare this situation to the following scenario in a football game.
- It is third down with one yard to gain for a first down
- The offensive strategy is to run the ball to the right
- Unfortunately, the lineman on the left side commits a false start
- The penalty results in moving the offense back five yards
- It is now third down with six yards to gain for a first down
Do you still run the ball? Six yards can be difficult to gain on the ground. What about a pass play? But, what if the defense has not allowed a passing gain over three yards the entire game?
How do you counter this? It is evident that your progression has moved in the opposite direction of which you intended, thus making the ground you have to cover much more difficult, and likely leading to frustration for many others.
So, implement the action plan when ready, but don’t drag it out. This will reduce mistakes, and help keep the system of change moving forward.
Lastly, remember this – Your action plan is putting to motion what you say you are going to do, and what you say you are going to do must coincide with what you actually do. If it doesn’t, then it will be recognized by others, and you will lose the trust and confidence of yourself and others.
Maintain your trust and confidence, as well as that of others. Celebrate the small victories. Make adjustments when needed. Play to your strengths. Eliminate your weaknesses. Capitalize on your opportunities.
Then, you will truly begin making progress in managing a system of complex change. Then, you will see the fruits of your labor. Finally, you will experience growth.