Man plans, and the gods laugh.
There is a lot that solid planning can do, and much that it cannot. Here are some of the key things that I have learned about change planning over the 40+ years I have been developing–and executing– change-related plans. (For more insights on change planning, see my Plan the Journey blog posts.)
Remember, you have your change story. You have early elements of preparation: you’ve inventoried your anchors; your resources, resource needs, and resource gaps; and the changes you will need to make; you have developed an initial set of milestones. All of these serve as input to your planning process.
Plan for What You Don’t Want!
One of the big mistakes we often make when planning a change is failing to think about what we don’t want to happen. Sometimes we catch the absence of this planning when we come face-to-face with an “Oh, No!” And, sometimes we only discover it after the fact.
What do I mean by this? Last week I used an example of a career change that required the individual to work nights and weekends, something that was–in itself–a major change. When one goes from having nights and weekends free to working nights and weekends, it can cause a strain on personal relationships. If the hypothetical individual in this example didn’t want to have his/her family relationships suffer, then planning should take this into consideration. What is the conversation that has to be had? When should it take place? With whom? How frequently will night and weekend work take place? How will this affect completing the education required to make the career shift? All of these things factor into the planning.
Shifting for a moment to an organizational setting, perhaps the planning needs to take into account maintaining a certain staffing level, or not drawing capital reserves down below $ X, or maintaining a minimum client/customer base. Failing to take the necessary factor(s) into account when planning can–and often does–lead to those “Oh, no!” moments, and puts the change at risk.
The best way to plan for what you don’t want is to ask the question, What could happen that we don’t want to happen? Then plan in a way that ensures, or at least limits, the possibility of it occurring. Don’t get carried away. You will never be able to think of, or plan for, every contingency; but you can significantly lower the likelihood of going off track by planning for what you don’t want.
Plan for Results, and Plan to Keep a Focus on Your Desired Outcomes.
I have written about this before. All too often we are lured into a change for the results that it promises. Then, the planning focuses not on the results, but on the “things” that need to be put in place. Several years ago I created an e-Book for a client. Painting the Room Blue communicated this concept simply. If all you want is a blue room, then just paint the room blue. But if what you are seeking to do is to create a calmer environment, or a more tranquil customer experience, etc…then painting the room blue may be necessary, but it is not sufficient.
What shifts in mindsets need to happen? What shifts in behaviors are required? What relationships (including but not limited to relationships with anchors as discussed in last week’s blog) have to change, and in what ways?
Don’t try to “cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i.'” If you try to do so, you will be planning for years to come. Plan the near-term more deeply than the longer-term. Depending on the scope of the change, near-term may be four-six weeks, or six months, or a year. But remember, the further out you are planning, the more likely things will change and your plan will need to change. You already have the roadmap for your change, so you are not “blind to” or “ignoring” the full journey; you are acknowledging the reality that it will be filled with unexpected surprises, detours, and mistakes, and that detailed longer-range planning is likely filled with inaccuracies.
Plan for periodic status checks; even if this is a personal change, find someone beyond yourself who you will “report in to,” someone who can help you be accountable, if only to yourself.
One of the biggest mistakes that gets made when it comes to change is thinking that the importance of the change, or the risk of not changing, or the reward of changing will be enough to carry the change to a successful conclusion.
As people, we each have a limited capacity for change. A limited capacity for all the change we are experiencing. It could be personal change. It could include professional change. There might be social changes–in our spiritual or religious institutions, in our communities, or nationally–that are having an effect on us. There aren’t separate buckets inside of us in which to put each of these changes. They are cumulative.
And when we exceed our change demand capacity, every change suffers. When the proverbial “straw broke the camel’s back,” it wasn’t the last straw that fell to the ground; it was all of them, as well as the camel. So, one of the important steps to take when planning is to ask What other change demands are there, either currently or in the foreseeable future? For each of these changes, determine how essential it is. If it is not essential, either put a halt to it, or be prepared to put a halt to it when change demand requires. If it is essential, there are several ways to reduce its change demand. You may intentionally decide to just put the key elements in place now (“paint the room blue”), while delaying the other elements of the change required for it to deliver its full benefit. You may choose to delay it; or you may extend the timeline.
Note, however, this is not “once and done.” Other demands will continue to come along. For this reason, it is important to plan on monitoring for symptoms of overload. (More on this next week when I provide an overview of the change journey.)
Plan to Put Things In Place.
It is likely that you don’t have everything in place that you will need to get you through a major change…whether it be at the personal or the organizational level.
At the individual level, your change may require budget management that wasn’t needed before. It may call for a carefully laid out and managed calendar. It may call for reinforcing some anchors, while changing your relationship to (or cutting free) others. It may call for a physical relocation or physical alterations (e.g. the new career may call for the addition of a home office that is accessible to clients from the outside). It may call for new sources of income. All of the “infrastructure” that you need to succeed with the change should be planned for.
At the organizational level, you may need to integrate strategic planning, project management, and a change or strategy realization office. You will need a governance structure. Your change may require training leaders, other sponsors, change practitioners/agents, advocates, and even the targets of the change. You may find value in a change agent network. It may be important to define decision rights. As mentioned above, you will want a tracking and reporting system, and a way of monitoring change demand vs. adaptation capacity. You may require a change management methodology, or have to supplement the one that is currently in place to fill in gaps that the current change is highlighting. All of these things should be planned for.
How do you plan for your change journeys? What else do you put in place? Comment below.