There is a widely used quote that has been embedded in my mind since I first heard it: "If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail." The essence of the quote has taken on a new level of immediacy due to the COVID-19 situation where major disruptions and opportunities must be assessed quickly for immediate action.
The foundation of a winning game plan is to develop one that you can put into action immediately. In normal years, football games are played weekly. Each team specifies the offensive and defensive plays and schemes that will be the core of the plan. They also add any new information about their opponents. The most important aspect of the winning game plan is the focus on fundamentals. Players work on fundamentals such as blocking and tackling, and other position-specific drills like one-handed and contested pass-catching, in their individual units at the start of every practice. This constant reinforcement of the fundamental techniques and skills prepares players for game-day adjustments.
During a recent conversation with Winnipeg Blue Bomber Hall of Fame player Joe Poplawski, I asked him how he was able to adapt to changes during a game. He said, "although training camp was the football season’s most gruelling two weeks, it prepared us for the challenges expected throughout the upcoming games. Two practices per day followed by meetings and video review allowed us to rehearse our entire playbook. These two-hour practices included periods for individual skill development, pass and run game, followed by entire team sessions. Although we weren’t always successful, camp got us ready for the upcoming competitions." After football, Poplawski took this focus on fundamentals with him to create a very successful business career.
In my review of businesses today, I see too many companies trying difficult actions when they have not built a plan, including a focus on their business fundamentals. Without a solid foundation, it is exceptionally difficult to ask employees to perform something more complex or to do a brand-new task.
Fortunately, there are excellent organizations that adapt and adjust by building from the basics. Dan Rolfe, president of Winnipeg’s Maric Homes, sees the request for new and different items on a regular basis. When building a custom home, the customer is guided through a process to find the details and special features they want within the budget and size of home they can afford. When customers ask for something that Maric has not seen before, the team knows they can quickly assess and address the request because they understand the basics of home building and construction techniques.
"It’s rare that we build the same home twice, so with each new client we have to adjust to make sure that we create an experience that provides a win-win for both parties involved," said Rolfe. "Since our customers are investing so much with our business, we pivot often through the sales, design and build process to create the unique and truly custom home asked of us. Our core practices, our fundamentals of building a home, keep us in check so that we can deliver at the highest level possible, even with a high degree of change, each and every time."
The fundamentals of building a home must be mastered first before you can create something unique. Combining this knowledge with the training camp prep cited by Poplawski, we can identify three main takeaways for a winning game plan that can help any organization adapt and adjust to a changing environment.
First, your plan includes all the plays and schemes that you want to use in the next game. While you practise these plays, coaches also spend time on the fundamental skills and techniques to allow you to execute the plays in the game. In your business, if employees cannot do the basic tasks, why would they be challenged to perform more complex ones?
Since change is necessary for innovation and improvement in any organization, your next step is to coach your employees so that they can build off their fundamental strengths to do new things when asked. Just like working on the core skills in training camp, great leaders will ensure employees’ core talents are applied to achieve the planned innovation or improvement.
Finally, a situation, such as COVID-19, may dictate the need to modify your plan. Make sure you monitor progress on the original plan to determine when and what to change. Winning coaches will make the adjustments and communicate the revisions clearly to their players. Top business leaders also assess and adjust as the situation dictates and ensure clear direction is provided to their employees.
Tim’s bits: Strong fundamentals provide an organization with the confidence to try innovative ideas or adapt to changes in their operating environment. Charles Darwin said, "…it is not the strongest that survives; but the species that survives is the one that is able best to adapt and adjust to the changing environment in which it finds itself." Build from your company and customer fundamentals so that you can successfully adapt when necessary.
Tim Kist, CMC, a certified management consultant by law, works with organizations to improve their overall performance by being truly customer-focused.
Tim is a certified management consultant with more than two decades of experience in various marketing and sales leadership positions.