First, we constantly look for evidence that supports what we believe to be true. At the same time, we actively block out data that contradicts our prevailing point of view, making it easier to see what we want to see.
We frequently recall situations and events inaccurately. We often allow ourselves to be unduly influenced by someone in an authority or expert role (the “authority” bias). We strongly prefer wrong information to no information, which leads us to put more emphasis on readily available information without verifying its accuracy. And we have a tendency to exercise the “hindsight” bias, whereby we look back and give ourselves more credit than is due for the way things unfolded.
This list goes on and on, as the human brain is continuously finding new and creative ways to prove itself right. And that’s exactly where so many strategic plans go wrong.
Instead of looking around and seeing where our plan might be going astray, we automatically gravitate toward information that suggests all is going as expected. Months later, when it becomes obvious our strategic “train” has jumped the track, it’s too late to get it back on the right one. That’s why I recommend practicing a dis-confirmation approach every now and then. Here’s how it works:
1. Conduct a “what’s going right” review.
Gather your team to discuss what evidence you have that things are going according to plan. Identify where and what you have seen that indicates all team members understand, are aligned to, and are engaged in achieving the new strategies. Hopefully you’re already doing this with scorecards, interim goals, and measured action steps to achieve those goals. If not, check out my blog 1st Quarter Checkup (Have You Done Your 1st Qtr Checkup?) for some ideas on how to employ a scorecard approach.
2. Reverse course.
Now do the opposite – discuss what evidence you have that things are not going exactly as planned.
Internally, where do you see confusion or a resistance to the new strategies? Where is more information needed? How can you better hear the voices of discontent or subtle sabotage that almost always exist? What informal thought leaders are influencing others in an unintentional or negative manner? Where do you see a lack of commitment to the strategies or a lack of translation into individual and team goals?
Externally, what changes have occurred with markets, customers, clients, suppliers or others in your ecosystem? Of these, which ones did you anticipate and which ones surprised you? What projects or initiatives should you adjust or even consider taking off the table as a result of those surprises?
3. Adjust expectations.
Don’t be surprised to discover that everything isn’t going exactly as you hoped when you created the brilliant strategic plan. But don’t get down on yourself either. Very rarely do plans unfold exactly as we thought they would. The idea is not to berate ourselves for getting off track, but to balance our human tendency to be overly optimistic and prove ourselves right.
To begin making adjustments to your plan, ask questions like:
- How often have our plans worked out as intended?
- Are we relying too much on things occurring exactly as we anticipated?
- Do we have sufficient contingency plans in place to address unexpected changes?
- What assumptions are we making in our plan that need to be questioned on a regular basis?
- Do we have a formal process for making sure that questioning occurs in a timely manner?
- Do we have a process in place for monitoring the marketplace so that we can adjust when necessary?
- Based on the rate of change in our industry, how often do we need to engage in these reality checks around our strategic plan?
To keep your plan on track, build this type of review into your implementation process. Intentionally visit your brain to question and explore what is not unfolding as you planned. Then do what the human brain typically avoids doing at all costs – look to prove yourself wrong for a few minutes.
Doing so will strengthen your abilities to shift as necessary, realign resources where needed, and see more than just how right you are. And it will keep your organization in the race to win!
Call to action: Schedule a “prove ourselves wrong” meeting with your team. Do it now!