What's Your 'Go To Plan' for Tough Times?

Planning for Uncertainty

In the lead up to the Sydney Olympic Games, part of my role as Chief Psychologist was to co-design the pre-briefing process for every athlete and official in the Australian Team (approximately 975 people).

While preparing, I came across a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr which has become one of my favourites (apologies for the slight paraphrasing):

'I seek the simplicity on the far side of complexity'

That quote helped to shape a simple framework or tool which has underpinned my coaching of business leaders and professional sportspeople for the past twenty years.

That tool, I call a 'Go To Plan' and it's designed for competent people who are entering an environment where they will experience uncertainty and pressure which might cause them to lose focus and be driven by overly-reactive emotions. 

How a 'Go To Plan' is Structured

A Go To Plan is built on three elements:

  1. DO THE BRILLIANT BASICS - which for an Olympic athlete means the rituals and routines they have honed over years of training (but which can be forgotten in the excitement or anxieties of such a big life event)
  2. LEVERAGE STRENGTHS - which means intentionally going to what you do well and using that to move forward with confidence
  3. LEAN IN - which means leaning into the pressure by applying it to opponents, or being brave instead of tentative in choices and actions

Those three elements are not just a useful guide for Olympic athletes, but rather they offer you (and your team) a way to navigate the pressures (and the emotional distractions) from the impacts of COVID-19.

How to Design Your 'Go-To-Plan' for COVID-19 Impacts

The concept and structure of the Go To Plan serves two purposes:

  • STARTING PLAN. Having a clear and simple plan as you enter the 'game'
  • ADAPTING. Using the structure of the plan to adapt your plans on the run

Here are few ideas to get you started.

STARTING PLAN. Start the Day (or Week) with a Go To Plan

The visual below guides you to address a brilliant basic, a strength to leverage, and a challenge to confront bravely. It can be used as a personal tool, and we also use it with teams. Start by using it for a day, and then adapt as needed.



ADAPTING. Adapt Your Go To Plan When Needed

If you notice your composure and focus being replaced by unhelpful emotions and distractions, take a moment to reset your Go To Plan

Choose something that addresses at least two of the three elements of the Go To Plan. For example, you might not always be able to leverage strengths but you can focus on the basics and lean into a new situation (particularly if you are doing some fast learning).

CASE STUDY. A CFO I was coaching last week summarised their Go To Plan for a particularly tough Executive meeting in this way:

  • Brilliant Basics: Present clear scenarios with best and worst case outcomes
  • Leverage Strengths: Ask cut through questions
  • Lean In: Push for bold decisions - hold the tension 

Give it a Go

Take a few moments before tomorrow to shape your Go To Plan for the day or a significant event, and at the end of the day do a short debrief to reflect on what worked well, and what you've learned. That will help you to shape the next day instead of the day shaping you.

The Olympics

In the pre-briefings we didn't give the athletes specific Go To Plans because that would have added to the complexity, but what we did do was brief them in a way that helped them think about the Games and the challenges with three questions in mind:

  • What are the brilliant basics?
  • What strengths can I leverage?
  • How can I lean into the challenges?

That's a winning attitude, and you can take the same into the challenges you and your team are facing with COVID-19.

Have you completed our free five module Leading Through Disruption digital course which has been designed to specifically equip leaders to support the psychological wellbeing and performance of their teams? If not, here's some further information.