How to plan a re-plan
When your plan is fundamentally knocked off course – you re-plan.
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Every organisation has had its plans affected by COVID-19 and the vast majority of organisations have already re-planned once and will do so again in the next 2-3 weeks and again in 3-4 months.
Many large organisations were used to taking 3-4 months to write a single annual plan. But there had already been a movement to more agile planning and execution cadence.
What was pre-existing best practice and what lessons can we take from the COVID-19 experience?
Pre-Covid best practise included a long history of improving planning and execution. From Deming in the 50s with the continuous improvement movement, Peter Drucker and Management By Objectives in the ’60s, SMART objectives in the ’70s, the Balanced Scorecard through the ’90s and Objectives and Key Results in the 2010s and the rise FAST. FAST objectives are Frequently discussed, Ambitious, Specific (which adds SMART) and Transparent.
As we all become more agile in what we plan and deliver to adapt and respond to the changing world quickly, we can see from the successful COVID-19 responses that these principles have served well even in addressing a crisis.
Firstly, the pandemic created a clear and urgent need for change and teams that responded to it well defined their major goals in a top-level physical or virtual gathering within a few hours, not months. Only the most important goals could be discussed, and the focus was on identifying those goals and getting the team aligned and working on them. Clear communication of those goals, a rapid cascade to the operational level with clear specific ways to change operations, and shared transparent information on how they are doing was achieved.
As we come into a new phase, the on-going social distancing norm, when sustaining an organisation through the changes and creating resilience to other future shocks is required, can teams that did well in responding to the emergency do so well again? Can teams that did not do so well in response do better in creating a resilient stage plan?
As the timeframe for considering the effectiveness of the plan moves from 3-6 weeks to 3-6 months, the scope of ambition needs to expand, from saving lives to include economic recovery and resurfacing of a social framework that serves our mental health and well-being as social animals.
More organisations will now need to return to operation, eliminating furlough and creating economic wealth and a social framework.
The management best practise approaches can be adopted by all, to help create change rapidly and effectively.
Identify key outcome goals and define them in specific measurable ways. Make clear the meaning of the organisation, which is important in what it does. Set the expectations as ambitious and achievable. Explain the reasoning behind what you are setting out to do, and what you have decided not to do.
Cascade the outcome objectives. Into what will now often be a more physically distributed, home working, workforce.
Focus more on the outcomes to be achieved, not so much the activity to be carried out. More transparency of what colleagues are doing, and what they are achieving will improve the ability to achieve outcomes that are aligned to the ambition.
Agree Accountability for both self-analysis and to enable conversations in the operational value chain. “Who impacts on me, and on whom do I impact?” is a great question to establish the value chain.
Achieve the re-plan at pace. Move from 5 weeks to 5 days; agree the key outcomes on a Monday, start the cascade on the Tuesday and set the ownership and accountability on Wednesday. Define the measures on Thursday and start tracking on Friday.
Set shorter meetings and force the pace.
Maximise ways of getting feedback and dialogue. Automate production of each team members actions and outcomes performance, peer and manager feedback and interaction where possible.
Carry out weekly check-in on goal progress within the team, far, far removed from an annual appraisal on performance management.
HR is the nerve centre of the organisation. Everyone needs to put the health and safety of the workforce, and customers first. Our team uses a daily health check-in and I see these becoming the best practice in all organisations.
Bigger organisations may be able to extend well-being policies to employee’s families.
More transparency will enable better alignment. Explain which decisions have been made, and why, and ensure consistency and equity within the organisational changes.
Recognise that introducing agile ways of working will help resilience and will serve the organisation well beyond the crisis.
As there is a staged return to work, clear prioritisation and transparency across 30, 60, 90 days will help individuals and families plan and survive with less stress and mental health challenges and be more productive as they return.
Resilience to the impacts of social distancing, and future shocks, is a top priority. There will be shocks to the system that we have not yet imagined that are a consequence of the Covid-19 crisis.
There will also be other future shocks that are not related, but with our processes and people already stretched, the impacts could be worse than usual if we don’t consider the risks and mitigations.
Our best resilience tool is human capital. Training our people is vital and workforces will be asked to change what they do and respond to different customer demands. Talent will remain the best asset and be even more important to retain and to train and strengthen.
Small cross-functional teams solve problems better and faster, with clear objectives and accountabilities. Creating virtual teams of distant resource will be more acceptable and normal as more staff are home workers. We need to plan for higher quality, more frequent and deliberate interactions in addition to the normal team meetings of the past. Communicate priorities transparently through a shared digital source such as visual dashboards.
Individual performance management can be improved through
- Simplifying targets, into weekly and monthly milestones and quarterly outcomes
- Communicate way, way more
- Gather feedback formally and informally across a wider group
- Include qualitative input to help feedback development plans
- Support morale with celebrations of performance, opportunities for growth and new challenges
We must all adapt and learn from the plethora of innovations and experiments applied to ways of working and identify which innovations might provide substantial uplift to our teams and customers in our next re-plan. Plan to re-plan again, and change and iterate!