Happy New Year! This is my first blog post for 2013 and like everyone else I am reflecting on this new year that I’ve been blessed to see. The future is always unknown. From nature, life’s best teacher, we know the future is never all cloudy (the sun will find a way to break through). Nor, is the future always sunny (challenges and disappointments come with the territory). So, we can expect ups and downs like every other year we have lived. With the rapid rate of change, however, the ups and downs can be significant.
Last year, several managers shared with me how difficult it was for them to stick to their goals and plans in this environment. Some also shared their difficulty in managing their own frustrations and that of their team members. They feared that they will forever work in a reactive mode where they can literally wake up and find their world at work has changed. These frustrations are real and understandable. Rather, than do a post about goal setting and planning for 2013, I’ll share some of my advice that I gave these managers last year. It still applies now. The following are three critical skills every manager needs in 2013:
The truth is that there is too much information to know for certain what goals and plans will work and what will not succeed. As Mashable explained last year, “while only about one-third of the world’s population is connected, the amount of data we generate and consume is likely to blow your hair back.” Consider the following that occurs in one day:
- 294 billion emails are sent. (It would take two years for the US Post Office to process that amount of mail.)
- Two million blog posts are written. (These are enough posts to fill Time Magazine for 770 years.)
To deal with this new workplace reality, managers today need to learn how to test their business assumptions before investing too many company assets in a plan or goal. Experimenting quickly and often—in alignment with the strategic direction of the company—allows managers to discard ineffective goals and plans. It also allows for smarter risk taking when experimentation is done on a pilot basis. So, be open to trying multiple approaches to resolve an organizational issue. As you experiment wisely, you’ll be more likely to find effective approaches to the challenges you face.
To help your team:
Help them understand the new realities of change and the uncertainty that comes with business today. Let them vent when they need to and use coaching, listening, and questioning skills to help them manage their negative emotions. Above all, be an example of the behavior you want your team to show. Show them and help them and they’ll be more likely to accept the unpredictable nature of business planning today.
Planning in today’s business environment today is challenging. We can just ask MySpace and AOL how hard it is to plan for the future. At times, now, business planning can feel like taking a roller coaster ride in the dark. As a result, managers cannot hold too firmly to their well crafted plans and goals. They must be flexible and accepting of change. To develop flexibility, managers need learning agility (the ability to learn and adapt from one’s experiences) and emotional intelligence (effectively managing one’s emotions and the emotions of others).
Managers hurt themselves and their teams when they rigidly adhere to a plan or a goal because everyone worked on it. It’s better to be open to new learning and to adapt plans and goals as necessary to new business realities.
To help your team:
Help your team understand that plans and goals today cannot be rigidly followed. They are flexible activities that managers and employees need to adapt in response to changing needs. Assist your team in develop their learning agility and emotional intelligence. Use feedback (including 360 feedback) and developmental activities to improve their self awareness. Assessments can help in this area as can effective coaching from you.
Reframing is one skill that I personally have found critical to my own success. Over the years, my ability to reframe the unexpected twists and turns that came my way has allowed me to make beneficial changes. Reframing is a skill that I encourage managers to develop in all of my business efforts.
Reframing is everywhere in our popular culture: making lemonade out of lemons and every cloud has a silver lining are examples. Reframing is finding another positive way to view a negative situation. Reframing is critical to innovation and problem solving. It is also essential to adapting to those frequent unexpected changes that are part of the workplace. Finally, reframing helps managers to be nimble as they turn problems into opportunities.
To help your team:
Help your team learn to view problems differently in the workplace. Encourage them to brainstorm potential opportunities from the problems they encounter. Encourage them to challenge their assumptions. With time, you will build a team whose first reaction to problems and challenges is to reframe them into positive opportunities.
Given the unpredictability of business today, you might ask should you stop making goals and plans? Absolutely not! Goals and plans provide strategic direction. Without goals and plans, we cannot see the forest for the trees. What’s critical is the quality of the goals and plans you create. Utilize your experience and your intuition, pay attention to your industry, listen to your customers, involve your team members, and leverage the wisdom of all of your stakeholders to make your goals align more closely with your real-world reality. With this attention, you will build plans and goals that have relevance to your real world situation. As you develop them, be willing to discard what no longer works and change your approach as necessary to stay viable. Most of all stay relevant! Everything is and will continue to change quickly around us.
Like a person who leaves home for college, business planning today is like Bill Cosby’s sitcom, A Different World. It’s very different from how it used to be. As the late blues singer Phoebe Snow sings so well in the show’s theme song: It’s a different world than where you come from!
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