During this past calendar quarter, I’ve worked with two very different clients with leadership teams in the early stage of implementing new strategic plans. In both cases, one or two executives abandoned a mutually agreed upon decision in the 11th hour to make an impassioned pitch for going in a different direction altogether. This doesn’t happen very often, but it can be incredibly disruptive when it does.
When you’re working in stressful conditions, particularly if results aren’t great and some kind of drastic change may be needed — or even if you’re just trying to stay the course while facing tremendous headwinds — you may encounter a few fearful or uncomfortable people who don’t trust the new direction, think something else would be safer, or only believe in a solution that suits their worldview and personal histories.
These folks would never be comfortable with the principle of “disagree and commit.” That’s when, after all appropriate voices have been heard and the leadership team has fully considered its options, everyone moves forward together; anyone who can’t be comfortable moving with the group self-selects out because they realize that really don’t belong there.
Why Plan B Comes to Be
In organizations that operate without this philosophy, even when a decision and a direction have been fully determined, someone might still pitch a last-minute alternative. Sometimes they’ve unpersuasively raised this alternative (or something similar) in the past and just aren’t ready to let it go. Often, they’re taking advantage of an open culture that is sympathetic to hearing everyone’s views and preferences, even when it’s inconvenient or — from a business perspective — counterproductive.
Nonetheless, if an alternative is well-conceived, a professional should be able to make a real business case for it, woo at least a significant proportion of decision-makers over to their cause — or realize that they can’t get any action and drop it. Really drop it. Like not ever raise it again unless they can come up with a new version that’s practical, appealing, and sticky enough to divert everyone’s attention one more time.
Or maybe the alternative view is completely right, but it hasn’t gotten the attention it deserves because of group think, complacency, or dislike for the individual(s) presenting the idea. It’s a different kind of problem if the person is so much of an outlier or an outcast that no one wants to entertain their motion: they may not belong in the organization, even if they have more technical prowess or greater insight into the future than others do.
Deliberately Evaluate Plan B
How can the mainstream deal with these kinds of diversions or complaints or squeaky wheels? Here are a few ways:
- Assess the fringe proposal to determine whether efforts in this direction are likely to pay off, or if there will be waste or misuse of resources, information, or energy. If the outcome is likely to be of low value, and no one wants to rally round the alternative plan, don’t put any more time or attention into it.
- Consider whether Plan B would work on its own if there were no Plan A to compare it to. Sometimes Plan B points out perceived weaknesses in Plan A without actually being stronger than Plan A already was. (This may force you to do a little more legwork and actually establish the gains that will be realized by implementing Plan A.)
- Determine whether Plan B will somehow serve the mission better than Plan A does. Will Plan B provide more organizational and individual growth? Again, although this is a more subjective appraisal, it would mean establishing that Plan B accomplishes more than Plan A rather than merely achieving something else that Plan A happens not to do.
- Evaluate whether Plan B will eliminate problems that Plan A can’t, while still accomplishing as much as Plan A would.
- Probe to see if there a clear sense of relief among the rest of the team because Plan B just feels much better than Plan A. This doesn’t even have to be based in logic to make it worth conducting a more rigorous follow-up evaluation; it just has to create a new sense of hope and commitment that people didn’t feel for Plan A.
Moving Beyond Plan B
If none of these measures make Plan B look really strong, it’s not worth the upheaval “just to try something else,” despite the one or two individuals who oppose Plan A. They may truly have an alternate worldview and be unwilling to commit to serving Plan A along with their colleagues. Even then, there’s still one other option for Plan B. The rest of the team may not support it, but if Plan B’s adherents can effectively “buy out” Plan A’s supporters, then Plan B can prevail.
Otherwise, though, the Plan B hardliners really need to get over themselves, or leave to pursue Plan B elsewhere, rather than creating ongoing drag on Plan A. Plan A may not work as conceived. But it’s definitely less likely to work if unnecessary resistance holds it back.