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Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face

Updated: Apr 29, 2020

At Hilary's Tea & Toast webinar on Build an agile mindset she quoted Mike Tyson.

In the lead-up to a fight, Tyson was asked about how he will respond to his opponents fighting style and tactics. Tyson famously responded: "Everybody has a plan until they get hit. Then, like a rat, they stop in fear and freeze."

Covid-19 has absolutely been my 2020 punch in the face. I’m going to assume it’s safe to say it’s been yours as well.

In what felt like a matter of days, everything changed. Where we can work, when we can leave our houses, and what we can do when we leave our houses all drastically changed. My best laid plans for the year crumbled.

  • My USA vacation in July? Cancelled.

  • Our home renovation timeline? Blown out.

  • The majority of our April – June workshops? Mostly cancelled or postponed.

  • The 2020 business offerings we wanted to launch? No longer a priority.

Obviously, we won’t always be living with the responses triggered by a global pandemic. But, we will always live with change. An agile mindset help us respond and grow from change.

Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.

- John C. Maxwell

Put your guards up

OK - we’ve been punched in the face. I can tell you from experience, getting hit in the face sucks. But what sucks more is getting hit again and again. Especially when you know you could have done something about it. After getting hit in the face your first step should always be to stop yourself from getting hit again.

I've dropped the photo from my early fighting days. Take my word for it: it's much better to block your face than to get hit.

Mentally, we ought to put our guards up by getting ourselves in the right headspace.

Two ways we can do this?

  1. Focus on what you can do and control: The opposite of optimism is helplessness. Ditch the victim mentality and think about the steps you can take.

  2. Reframe with an attitude of gratitude: Find the silver lining in every circumstances and recognise things to be thankful for.

Here’s how I’ve reframed those changes to my 2020 plans.

  • I’ve purposefully and intentionally connected with friends and family in ways I wouldn’t have otherwise.

  • The time not renovating has been great to refuel and research next steps.

  • I’ve been able to strengthen and grow my facilitation skills by focusing on virtual delivery.

  • We’re focusing on new, exciting offerings that weren’t even on our client’s radars at the beginning of this year.

Adapt, adapt, adapt

If moving forward with your plan means you’re going to keep being punched in the face, I’d advise changing your plan.

Sometimes letting go of our plans can be difficult. We don't always have something as confronting as a fist or a global pandemic forcing us to change. Sometimes the status quo is no longer a viable option. Sometimes you receive new or better information.

We certainly didn't have any of this in our plans. Imagine that: Ahhh yes, and in Q2 95% of our clients will cancel, postpone, or condense their work with us within a matter of weeks.

Accept, then adapt. Easier said than done but hey - the best path to innovation is trial and error. Design, test, iterate. And repeat.

We got together and did some creative thinking and six of us came up with over 100 creative ideas to pivot, adapt, change, and move The Training Practice forward. We've already implemented some: We've moved Tea & Toast online and weekly. We've upped our blogging (hell, we're home and have things to say!). We've updated our business agility approach. Guess what - none of that was on our Q2 plan either.

As our own company works to adapt to Covid-19, I've found it fascinating watching how other companies, big and small, adapt their systems, strategies, and plans. As an avid sports fan, I’ve been struggling without the enjoyment of live sports to keep me going—particularly the NBA. Industries built on sports have had to drastically adapt to stay relevant right now. Here are two prime examples from the last month:

  • NBA insider, Woj (Adrian Wojnarowski) leads a basketball podcast called The Woj Pod following breaking news and league results. On March 16th, Woj's podcast guest had nothing to do with basketball. Andy Slavitt, Obama's healthcare head and founded of U.S. of Care joined The Woj Pod. I can guarantee you interviewing Andy Slavitt about healthcare and virus’ was not in Woj’s plan. But, given that the NBA was no longer operating, his regular podcast of reflecting on the week's games was not going to work. So, he adapted.

  • The content might not change, but timing might. The ESPN/Neflix mini-series focusing on Michael Jordan and the 97-98 Chicago Bulls, The Last Dance, did just this. It was originally not scheduled to be released until June. But, recognising the gap and opportunity the suspended NBA season gave, producers dropped the programme early and it is currently being watched by millions of people around the world.

Make your plans living

In order to adapt to your current reality - your plans have to be living documents - ready to accept, flex, and change based on new information.

But, many of us get this wrong - even when the stakes are high. Take annual personal and performance development plans at too many organisations. They often sound something like this:

  • Beginning of the year: set yearly goals

  • Throughout the year: give progress update on set goals

  • End of the year: be scored on how well you achieved goals

  • End of the year: Remuneration is adjusted based on scores

These plans are high stakes. There's a direct correlation between your planned goals and your future pay. In Hilary's Build an agile mindset webinar, she comments that if performance planning was so great, we'd use it outside of work. But, she rightfully points out that we would never set performance plans for our six year old children. We need a whole separate blog to unpick all the problems, but one that's glaring: How do you plan for the unknown?

I’m going to bet money nobody planned for Covid-19 when they were setting their yearly goals. But, here we are—with our world completely changed and likely our goals impacted. One thing we can do: make our plans living.

We keep our plans alive by continuously iterating them when new information comes in. Back in the ring, this would be equivalent to recognising that even though the scouting report said your opponent's left hook was weak, the ringing in your ears tells you otherwise. Imagine not processing that information and responding to it ASAP.

That's all agility is - processing the new information and responding. At work, this new information might affect any number of things: our customers, budgets, timelines, capabilities, resources, etc. And we need to make sure the latest plan takes into account the current reality.

Many coaches have told me the best offense is a good defense. Scanning your environment and iterating your plans based on new information is the best planning defense you can have: particularly in a time of change.

So, put your guards up and focus on what you can control: your mindset and your defense. Process, then adapt.


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