Today's Challenge: Unexpected Opportunities

Tension is a wonderful thing. We often don’t see it that way. We mistakenly wish we could eliminate tension. That would not be good. There are some tensions that will always exist and the outcomes of that tension are a good thing.

If you decided to continue reading, it’s probably out of curiosity – because you don’t have any idea what I’m talking about. Here are a few examples of healthy tensions leaders should manage:

Cost control vs. sales building.

New growth vs. reinvestment in existing assets.

Current operations vs. research for the future.

Existing products vs. research and development for future products.

If you work in a church, outreach and discipleship create an ongoing tension.

In our personal lives, we must manage the tension between today’s expenses and how much we’ll save for retirement.

And, there’s always the classic tension between management and leadership.

We shouldn’t work to eliminate any of these tensions; we should work to manage them.
Today, I’ll respond to one of these based on a question I received from a leader – How do you create a culture in which planning is valued and done well and still seize unexpected opportunities?
The “we need a plan” vs. “let’s see what happens” conundrum is very real. It is at the heart of two different personalities and worldviews. However, that doesn’t mean the two can’t co-exist. I maintain, in the best organizations, they always do.
Here are a few ideas to manage the tension:
Have a plan – It’s hard to create a culture that honors planning without a plan. And, be sure to allocate enough time and energy to do planning well. I’ve written a few posts about that previously if you’re interested.
Hold the plan loosely – This is an issue of mindset. Don’t think of your plan as the Ten Commandments. At the end of the day, planning is a tool not a mandate. If circumstances change, or opportunities present themselves, be flexible.
When the plan needs to change, change it – Changing the plan is different than abandoning the plan. When you decide to move on an opportunity, decide what you’ll not do in your plan and actually change the plan.
Create margin in your plan – I’ve long believed the best plans allow some margin - margin in both time and money. If your plan allocates 100% of your time and 100% of your dollars, you are destined for changes and perhaps unneeded frustration. If you build a plan with even 10% margin, you will have space for unexpected opportunity built in.
The best leaders know, life happens and we need to be nimble and responsive. They also know, organizations with well-conceived plans accomplish more than those that don’t plan.
Plan and seize unexpected opportunities; you’ll find this to be a classic example of what Jim Collins calls, “The genius of the AND.” Your organization will be stronger if you can learn to do BOTH.[GLS_Shield]

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Kimunya Mugo

9 years ago

Mark, thank you for this awesome read that I can implement immediately! I love the fact that "planning is a tool not a mandate".
Unfortunately, we work in teams where some members are completely disillusioned that plans are the holy grail. There is no flexibility built into the planning. What happens then? When ground-breaking opportunities arise, it becomes difficult to capitalize on them. These opportunities may perhaps resolve a major proportion of the overall plan...
Without a culture of harnessing unexpected opportunities, the space to innovate hardly exists. This creates even more tension and frustration that affects the plan or planning in the long run. It results in apathy, with teams just trudging along to get the bare minimum output that the planning requires of them.


9 years ago

Kimunya, thanks for taking time to comment. I feel your pain! I've been on teams in which the plan becomes the goal - rather than a means to achieve a goal. As you know, that's no fun and actually counterproductive. Hang in there; I will too. Let's continue to help people see planning as a tool to help turn our dreams into reality. Please let me know if I can serve you or your team in the future. Mark

Jonathan Fanning

9 years ago

Great challenge! Toyota taught me a great lesson about this very early in my career. A factory that I managed supplied Toyota directly. They would send a team to visit every 3 months. We would immediately spend time in "Gemba" - where the action is - and measure reality. Then we would evaluate our previous plans to see how they might need changing.
I believe Jim Collins example from Good to Great of s balance between a culture of discipline and an ethic of entrepreneurship adds to this discussion.
Thanks, Mark!


9 years ago

Thanks, Jonathan! I know about Toyota, but have never worked with them directly. It sounds like it was a great forum for learning. I appreciate you joining the conversation! Mark

Planning is a tool, not a mandate | Lead by Choice

9 years ago

[...] post was inspired by Mark Miller’s article “Today’s Challenge: Unexpected Opportunities”. Thank you Mark for your inspiring [...]


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