Responsiveness is more important than the plan

Where will you be in five years?
A question that many entrepreneurs, career tigers and top athletes ask themselves is: “Where do I want to be in five years’ time”? Asking this question will help you plan your future and take the necessary steps to get there. Or so is the assumption…

“Life got in the way”
Yet I know very few entrepreneurs who at any point have arrived at the place they had thought of for themselves five years earlier. There are always events and developments that influence the direction and the result – both positive and negative. Life came between them and their plans.

Relative value
Of course your organization has a vision. But that vision is not limited to time. It is about what can be improved in your market, how products and services can be marketed in distinctive ways, the possibilities of technology, new value propositions. And with that vision comes an ambition. Call it a mission: market leadership, most innovative company, best employer. You name it. It’s good to make that ambition “SMART” (Specific, Measurable, Acceptabel, Realistic and Time-bound). This is your potential! And people will get excited about it. But the answer to the question “Where do you want the organization to be in five years’ time” has relative value. For example, if you are an ambitious hospitality entrepreneur who wanted to open your restaurant in the spring of 2020. Or someone who envisioned to open their online brand of consumer goods. In either case, the strategic plan doesn’t make much sense anymore – for one entrepreneur the COVID 19 outbreak could mean bankruptcy, the other one is growing faster than he had anticipated. In any case: for both entrepreneurs it means finding an answer to the circumstances and events now. In other words: it’s about being responsive. Either by changing your business model – delivering meals at home and setting up the processes and logistics for this – or invest in scaling up your operation and finding a solution to the financing problem that this creates.

The dot on the horizon versus now…
Entrepreneurial life is full of unexpected events and developments, opportunities and threats alike. But what is more important then? The best possible response to events and developments? Or sticking to that “dot on the horizon”? The answer, of course, is the best possible response right now. Because that’s what the future of your company hinges on!

Doing business in the present moment
No company can afford anything else: if reality “happens” to your company, responsiveness is required. Because you do business and manage it in the present moment. By responding to and anticipating change. By improving and innovating. And that takes you and your organization somewhere. Very often this is not at the predetermined end point. The journey turns out to be more important. And if you are able to look at it that way and take your organization along, the journey will also be a lot more fun and adventurous. Full of unexpected windfalls.

John Lennon once sang, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” That does not apply to responsive organizations. They are of course inspired by their ambitions and strategy. But these are not set in stone. As Daniël Ropers, former Managing Director of Bol.com, put it: “Responding to change is really more important than following a plan!” (‘The Responsive Entreprise’, by Rini van Solingen en Vikram Kapoor, Publisher Boom, 2016).

The art of letting Go

In one of the previous blogs we discussed the transition in the field of management: from so-called “directive” to “facilitating” leadership. Managers are not the people who tell the team what to do, “make it perform” and “get the results.” The starting point is that the team can do that very well itself. Provided a number of conditions are met. For example, there must be clarity about the objectives, the team must be complete and there must be a clear division of tasks. The focus is on every individual coming into his or her own and that there is psychological safety so that the team can develop freely.

What often comes up in discussions about facilitating leadership is that managers should be able, and dare, to “let go”. Does this mean that you are not interfering with anything anymore? That you let everyone have their own way, and see what that leads up to?

That is by no means letting go. But for managers who are used to planning, directing and controlling it may feel like that. Because it’s a habit. And habitual behavior is persistent: even though you believe that working differently is good, it feels uncomfortable, and maybe even scary, because you’re not used to it. Which is why it is a good thing to consider what letting go exactly is in a management context.

To this end, we make a distinction between “desire” and “intention”. They are two states of mind, or attitudes, that are very similar but differ in one important aspect.

Desire
With a desire you are attached to the result you want to achieve. That means that you experience positive emotions when that result is achieved and negative emotions when it is not. Compare it to a child who has set his sight on the latest game console for his birthday: the greater the desire, the greater the joy or disappointment when the wish is or is not fulfilled. The intensity of the emotion is directly proportional to the intensity of the desire.

Intention
When you are not attached to the result you want, then there is an intention. When you act from intentions, your attitude is open to the results that emerge. You do have a result in mind (the intention), but you are not emotionally affected by the actual result because you are not attached to it. This makes you accept the result as it is. You do not resist the outcome. But that does not mean that you are apathetic or that you will give up. Because you remain open and curious about further possibilities and what to do next – and as a result you create agility and creativity …

In daily management practice, many things are not going as well as planned or budgeted. Viewed from the perspective of desire, they all harbor disappointments.

Disappointment is a form of resistance to reality. People who act from intentions do not have that resistance. They accept the results and will therefore look at them more freely. As a result, they are better able to see how things can further be improved: the lack of desire and resistance automatically means an open mind and a creative attitude: “OK, this is what we have achieved, why and how do we make it better?”

Management
The difference between “directive management” and “letting go” is comparable to this. You put together your team. Obviously there are objectives. You want to go somewhere. And you give the team the autonomy to decide how they are going to achieve that goal and what actions they will to take. If necessary, you give advice. And you coach the team members. But then you “release” them to do the work. And you wait and see what the results of their actions are. With an open mind: your intention on the goal, and accepting what is to come.

Attitude
The difference between both management styles is a small difference in attitude. There is no difference in ambition level. The attitude of “letting go” ensures that the team can freely do what it does best. It leads to a world of difference in spirit within teams, motivation of those involved and responsiveness of the organization.