Discipline can increase the probability of a desired outcome. Webster’s Dictionary defines discipline as, “the practice or methods of teaching and enforcing acceptable patterns of behavior.” In the past, many organizations divided discipline into two elements—planning the work and working the plan. And while few topics have received more attention as critical components to effective business management, the key question now is whether traditional discipline is sufficient to match today’s challenges. I believe the answer is no.
Traditionally, senior leaders would start to plan the work for a coming year with a structured and disciplined approach. These leaders would envision the next phase of an organization’s growth and strategize how best to deploy their assets to reach their goals. Depending on the organization, others might develop detailed action planning steps in support of the strategy along with dashboards of leading and lagging metrics to gauge and control. Typically, groups would spend considerable energy teaching everyone in an organization about the plan via clear, consistent, compelling, and one-way communication. Leaders on the front line would be charged with working the plan, focused on implementing and measuring to enforce compliance.
In light of today’s dynamic business conditions, I suggest three unconventional best practices that have been proven to help disciplined organizations succeed.
First, increase the diversity of input when building your plans. Successful companies today are disciplined at engaging a far greater number of people in the strategizing and planning phases than ever before. Organizations benefit from including a far greater diversity of views and experience from all workers, particularly from the talented group of millennials, whose perspective is vastly different from that of previous generations. Receiving such varied input allows for a more complete view of the plan, often accounting for circumstances and factors that might have been missed had the planning phase merely maintained the status quo. Business as we know it is changing, but we can be ready for it by asking for input from the right people.
Second, shorten the time between your planning cycles. Nimble organizations are moving away in a disciplined way from traditional annual planning cycles and substituting a much more streamlined, semi-annual or quarterly process to adjust plans and or resources to take advantage of changing markets and customer dynamics. Month-to-month is the new year-to-year. While change has always been a constant, the rate of change is steadily increasing. To keep up in an ever-evolving business environment, how we plan must also change.
Third, build a culture that anticipates changes and excels at mid-course adjustments. Successful companies today use discipline and process to make sure all employees feel empowered to question plans any time they believe market conditions or assumptions used to form the plans have changed. These groups also build a capacity and skill sets needed for constant change. Each element of my All-In Roadmap—discipline being one element—is interconnected with the others. In this case, discipline requires support, another All-In Roadmap element. A team that masters the art of adjustment will require support from above to feel comfortable voicing concerns with the current plan.
Despite being a loaded word, discipline is a good thing. A company is stronger when discipline contains the assumption that opportunities to teach come at any time and from anyone in the organization (acting as a Chief). When discipline comes with the assumption that a company can enforce a plan with appropriate flexibility, that company is far more likely to prosper.
This is the first of a series of five blogs about the All-In Roadmap elements: