Overcoming Continuity Bias in Strategic Planning

 

Continuity bias is one of the pitfalls of Strategic Planning.  It’s the tendency of individuals to think that things will generally stay the same, particularly when heavily invested in those circumstances.  Planning workshops need to be framed as a fresh look.  They are not an iteration on last year.  It must challenge the status quo.  I don’t want my clients to be like the management team of Encyclopaedia Britannica, investing heavily in massively increasing the sales force whilst writing off the internet as a non-threat.

To combat this, in preparation for strategic seminars, I prepare and send to participants some stimulus material.  It helps them arrive with a degree of fresh thinking.  It opens minds to new possibilities and it puts strategic challenges in the buffer for unconscious processing in the weeks leading up to the event.

The items I pick are bespoke to each situation.  Generically, they normally include:

  • A future trends article to help participants think long term.  This will probably include examples of upcoming disruptive technologies, attitudes and trends of new consumers and customers, new ways of organising work inside and outside the organisation.
  • A strategic planning article to bring people up to date on modern thinking on how to plan in an agile way.
  • Some case studies of organisations who are doing something similar in a different field.  For example, I once worked with a Housing Department maintenance team using a pre-Uber example of a taxi firm with “ready when you are” circulating taxis along with online order dispatch.  They changed their model for urgent repairs by equipping vans with the materials and people that could cover 80% of instances and planning capacity.
  • Statistical research.  I sometimes produce or work with the commissioning team to produce a pack of slides to look at the evidence.  For some people, only evidence will do.
  • Any market or sector forecasts that are high quality and not already well-known to the group.
  • Reflections of leaders who have succeeded in something similar, particularly if they are highly motivational along the way.

 

The other way I combat Continuity Bias is to deliberately create exercises that challenge the status quo.  For instance, here are some favourites:

  • You are a new competitor in this market space is making overtures to investors.  Develop a 5 slide deck to critique existing players (including your company) and make the case for “something new”.
  • You are a team of professional analysts and critics.  Dismantle your product or service and critique its component parts.
  • Develop a visionary and radical scenario of how business will be done in this market in 20 years’ time.  Consider:  Customer Proposition, Channels to Market, Flow of Money, Suppliers and Supply Chains, Production Processes, Service, Customer Interactions.

Business history is full of once brilliant companies who stopped thinking far enough ahead.  Your future should already be under construction.  If it is destined to over-take the present, this is something to be embraced, not feared.

 

 

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