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Business & Leadership Behaviors Project Management Thoughts

Now What? Thoughts on Responding When Plans Fail

We’re into the middle of January and I think some of those resolutions are already starting to get kicked to the curb.  While the gym is still more crowded now than it was in recent months, it’s already starting to slow down.  The snowstorm that kept everyone inside last weekend didn’t really help I’m sure.  Storms do have a tendency to inspire comfort food – not exercise.

But it got me thinking.  It doesn’t take much to knock us off course when we’re working towards something.  There are all kinds of things that can happen – that we may or may not have any influence or control over.  A friend of mine used to say that when you make a commitment, be ready for the universe to test how serious you are.

My friend has a point.  All plans go awry.  As a Project Manager, I know this fact – but I’m clearly a little masochistic and keep trying to perfect plans.  Obviously, I haven’t yet been successful since you’d probably see my picture on the cover of some magazine if I did.

But since all plans personal or professional will – at some point – have issues, there are some actions that we can take.  We can look at what could go wrong and mitigate the risks and impacts as much as possible.  Then, we can define our Plan B’s, etc.

The kicker is those challenges that we didn’t – or couldn’t – anticipate.  I think this is sometimes where the truth of character and/or commitment is revealed – in how we deal with the unanticipated challenge.

What do you do when you hit that setback?  You really have three (general) options – give up, try again, or chart a new course.  This is true for personal goals – and professional ones.

Give Up

“Forget it.  It wasn’t meant to be.  Life without ___________ is just not worth it.”

“I tried.  It didn’t work.”

“I knew that _________ wouldn’t work here.”

So the universe tested you and determined that no, you weren’t really serious about this plan – whatever it was.  So just give up, right?  Well, you might not want to be too hasty.

Now that you’ve freed up your time from whatever it was you were attempting.  You don’t just have to accept the status quo.  You or your team was motivated to change for a reason.

I would take the time to really look at the reasons why you wanted to change in the first place.  You might learn that you didn’t really have the right plan to get there.  Or you might learn that you’ve been looking at a symptom – and not the true issue.  In any case, I think a little reflection might be helpful before you completely call it quits.  The chips & Netflix aren’t going anywhere.


Try Again

“Once more, with feeling!”

“Get back on the horse that bucked you”

“The third time’s the charm”

Things come up that can throw us off a process.  It might be as simple as going into autopilot and forgetting a new process/routine/etc.  Or it might be something outside of us – like a snowstorm in a city like St. Louis that handles heat SO much better than snow.

In these situations, your overall process and commitment might be on track.  You just may not have accounted for some of the risks.

Whatever it was that derailed you, sometimes these are anomalies and the next best step is to take the lesson learned & just try again.  Put up those post-it note reminders.  Set that alarm on your phone.  Identify some method to respond to whatever that event was that threw you – and get back on the horse.


Change Approach

“I haven’t failed.  I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work” (-Thomas Edison)

“Only the wisest and stupidest of men never change” (-Confucius)

“When things go wrong, don’t go with them” (-Elvis Presley)

Your goal might be the absolute right one – but a challenge might be telling you that you might not be going about it the best way.  Don’t get me wrong – there is absolutely nothing wrong with repeating an approach.  Of course, I say that under the assumption that you looked at what happened, didn’t find the flaw in your steps and the best next action seems to be to repeat.

However, if after a few repeats – or acknowledgment that whatever got in your way isn’t going to change – you’ll need to alter your approach if you really want to hit your goal.  So regroup, assess all of the tools you have in your box and remind yourself why you’re going through this.  Then chart your new course.

You may have to change approaches more than a few times.  But if the goals are right – the effort and the lessons you learn along the way are worth it.  That whole light bulb thing was a solid goal, don’t you think?


One of the biggest challenges you’ll come across is finding the willingness to enter into a resolution in the first place.  That’s been true for me personally – and one of the most common barriers with many of the organizations that we talk to at HL Group.  Seriously – our biggest competitor is Doing Nothing.

Change is hard and is a risk.  But if you’re doing it for the right reasons – it can have profound impacts on your life or your business.

So whaddya say?  Back to the gym?


Anne Hale is the Director of Client Services at HL Group, Inc., a premier provider of mobile inventory management, RFID, and supply chain solutions. She manages our client engagements, helps with sales and marketing, and is hanging in there with those resolutions….mostly.