4 questions to ask yourself before scrapping a plan (and learning a lesson)

I’ve been thinking about when to pull the plug on projects that are not working.  We hope there are not too many of these.  If you have planned and designed well, using our six dimensional model then these ”scrapped plans” should be few and far between. However, sometimes, despite the best of efforts and intentions project do not work, and we need to back out of them gracefully, keeping our reputation and maintaining good working relationships.  Here are some wise words from one of my Twitter favorites, Renee Charney.

For the original article see http://www.hrcommunication.com/Main/Articles/6909.aspx

Know when to hold ’em, know when to fold’em. Great advice from an executive leadership coach.

By Renee Charney | Posted: September 23, 2011

I have an artist friend who oil-paints en plein air; he goes outside, sets up his easel and whatever he sees in front of him, he paints. It’s a very in-the-moment type of art.

I asked him one day if he ever wishes he had an “edit” or “undo” option in his paintbrush. He laughed and said, “Yes!” and proceeded to tell me a story about a time when he attended a workshop taught by a renowned painter.  On one particular late afternoon, my friend returned from a day of painting and the instructor asked how his day had gone. My friend said, “It was a ‘scraper.'”
“What’s that?” you might wonder.

A “scraper” is when an artist, unsatisfied with what he’s spent several hours toiling over, takes his trowel and scrapes everything he’s painted off the canvas, leaving it bare and wanting.

I can’t imagine how difficult a decision that must be, what it must have taken for him to recognize that all his time, and effort needed a do over. Maybe he learned something, maybe, he realized something; still, the work was gone.  And how and when, I wondered, did he know that the scene on the canvas in front of him had reached that point?

Then I realized that we all have our “scrapers.”

As HR executives and leaders we are constantly faced with such situations.  Maybe a training program isn’t working out the way we had hoped, or a recruiting strategy isn’t producing the results we expected.  How often might we hasten to scrape what we’re working on and begin anew?  And how do we know we’re not dismissing those efforts in haste? Might there be opportunities to stop, wait, and consider what should be preserved?

I submit that there are, and propose four questions for you to consider when deciding to toss or keep:

1. What might I have if I keep it as it is? Perhaps there is something of value or something someone else can use. It’s always worth taking a few minutes to think this point through.  Once scraped, whatever we’ve done is gone and we can’t usually get it back. Perhaps even asking someone else’s opinion would be worthwhile.

2. What is here that I’ve not explored? Sometimes we want to get rid of something because it doesn’t fit the purpose for which it was originally intended. In other words, a good idea or a good effort may simply be targeted at the wrong purpose. Is there another way to use this? A different kind of value?

3. How can I make sure I remember what I’ve learned? As my painter friend reminded me, there’s always something to learn, even from a failed attempt. If we don’t sometimes fail, it’s arguable that we never learn.  So I always take the time to jot down the few kernels of value that have come from my efforts — even if the value is noting what not to do again.

4. How important is this in the bigger scheme of life? All too often we let our egos and emotions guide us.  What will people think of us if we admit to a “scraper?” Will we feel like we’ve failed? Will others judge us? But that’s not what’s important. The key is the doing and the learning — at least as much as the achieving. I always try to remember this, and remind others of it, too.

Sometimes scraping is the right thing to do, but it’s important that we know why.  Asking these questions always seems to help me.  Are there others that help you?

Renee Charney is the founder of Charney Coaching & Consulting. The original version of this post was published on her website.

This entry was posted in performance, Strategy, workplace and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 4 questions to ask yourself before scrapping a plan (and learning a lesson)

  1. Hazel Owen says:

    What words of wisdom! It got me thinking about people that I know, and/or have worked with who are reluctant to ‘scrape’ their canvas clean. Perhaps two of the big differences between a personal project, and one where we are ‘in it together’ are: When in a shared project, it requires at the very least a majority realisation that it’s all going pear-shaped. And second is a cultural responsiveness. In some cultures, it is not OK to say I mucked up. Rather the polite thing to do is for everyone around to realise that things are not on track, and to provide opportunities for the project manager / instigator to depart gracefully with their dignity intact. Of course, that relies on the person in charge having awareness that there are issues and taking advantage of the opportunities provided to bow out! 🙂

  2. Hazel Owen says:

    P.S. I know of another community who would get a lot out of this if you were happy to cross-post it!! 😉 🙂

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