One Key to Strategic Planning is to Confront Your Assumptions

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Strategic planning for business is all about strategy specific to planning so that the desired results for that business are achieved. Webster defines the origins of the word strategy as “the ability of a general to deceive the enemy.” In today’s modern world, this simply means to out think and out last the competition.

One of the most consistent behaviors that I observe in my role as an executive business coach when taking clients through a strategic planning process is the failure to identify basic assumptions and even more important to confront those assumptions. Within the first 2 sessions when working with my clients, I tell the following story. (This source of this story in unknown.)

“Have any of you ever heard of the Bill and Hilary Story?” (Note: The response I am looking for is “Which One?”) “Am I glad you asked,” is my next response. Then I continue. “There is a locked room with only one door with a window wide open. Bill and Hilary are dead on the floor. Near them are a table and chair. Broken glass and water are on the floor near the chair and table. How did Bill and Hilary die?”

What continues to amaze me is all the answers such as:

  • Someone dropped down from the air/heating vent
  • Someone crawled through the window
  • Hilary poisoned Bill
  • Bill poisoned Hilary
  • Hilary and Bill strangled each other

After I receive the answers, I begin to probe to learn what Bill and Hilary look like. Besides the deer in the headlights look (I should know what they look like), I hear the following:

  • Bill is wearing a blue or black, suit
  • Hilary is wearing pink or brown suit
  • Bill is dressed in formal attire
  • Hilary is dressed in an evening gown

Everyone describes them with the basic assumption that Bill and Hilary are human beings, but do not confront this assumption. I continued to probe until someone tells me that Hilary is a woman with blond hair or Bill is a tall man. When I ask them where in the information presented (I retell the initial story) does it state that Bill and Hilary are a man and a woman? Then I ask them to remove this assumption and to rethink the question as to how Bill and Hilary died? Very quickly, someone will answer that Bill and Hilary are goldfish.

My final question to this story is “What was the purpose of this story?” Discussion now focuses on the two key areas:

  • Assumptions are within us
  • Assumptions are so ingrained that sometimes we can’t even recognize them
  • Assumptions must always be challenged
  • Assumptions can lead to dangerous consequences

After the Bill and Hilary story, I share with my clients a real example of a dangerous assumption. One of my corporate coaching clients owned a health food store. As the group was discussing and sharing their assumptions, this client made the statement that “Everyone needs a health store.”

I challenged that assumption by the following statement: “My 102 year old grandmother, my 87 year old Uncle and my 80 year old mother never, ever stepped inside a health food store. ” Then I continued with the statement, “I believe your assumption is false and is based upon what you what to believe rather than what is.”

The client was somewhat taken aback because this was her basic assumption for starting the business. And I must be honest that she left me as a client because I confronted her core belief. Her business still continues to struggle. I believe that her business challenges had as much to do with her assumptions than with her marketing and sales skills.

When you make an unchallenged or unconfronted assumption such as “Everyone needs my business,” you then make marketing and selling decisions based upon that assumption. The consequences can continue to reinforce what you are trying to change. Ever heard of Einstein’s definition of insanity? “Doing the same things over and over again and hoping for different results.”

So as your proceed through your strategic planning process, make sure to confront those assumptions or you just may end up like Bill and Hilary – two dead goldfish.

P.S. If you are an executive business coach, small business owner or executive and wish to share the Bill and Hilary Story, please do so. My simple request is to please let me know if your results are similar to mine.

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Source by Leanne Hoagland-Smith

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