In our last posting, we looked at how our company values and beliefs play a pivotal role in our strategic growth planning activity.
If you ignore your company’s mindsets during the strategic planning or marketing planning process, your plan will fail.
Consider these five additional areas, and face them “head on” with your teams. They include: attitudes, memories, decisions, your language, and thought patterns. I promise you will break down some of the common barriers to growth. Here’s more detail:
Attitudes are often shaped by your values and beliefs. Some attitudes are positive; others are negative. For example, one of our clients’ Directors used to respond to any new company announcement with the comment, “Here we go again . . . another new idea from the CEO!” This attitude of dread and resignation spread like cancer in the company. Most of their new initiatives failed or took up to five years to take hold. Thankfully, “Mr. Dread” retired soon after we started working with the CEO. We witnessed an immediate improvement in the level of candid discussion and acceptance around new ideas.
Memories are past experiences that shape your current perceived understanding of reality. Think of memories as your way of rationalizing your beliefs. Memories are created when we rationalize what we think happened and the meaning we assign to it.
Here is an example of someone whose memory was shaping his current reality: Robin provides leadership and performance coaching to Fortune 500 firms. When he started working with us, his marketing plan required him to launch a new website. I soon provided him with three reputable web design firms to contact. For over a month, he interviewed these firms. He checked references. He scheduled lengthy consultations. Yet, he could not make a choice. When I asked him what was causing the delay, he responded, “I had a terrible experience with another web design firm in the past. Now I’m afraid to make another bad decision.”
Robin’s memories of poor alliances were haunting him years after the events had occurred. He interpreted that initial single incident to mean that “all alliances and new business partners were not to be trusted.”
Decision making has a sense of finality and doom. It seals our fate if we allow it to permanently drive our business growth. Choices, on the other hand, imply more freedom and expansive ways of thinking.
Ken Olson, former CEO of Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), made several ill-fated decisions in the 1970s and 1980s. He decided to ignore the shift from centralized to personal computing. He allowed DEC’s engineering culture to dictate their future, no matter how much their customer preferences were changing. Making decisions based on a culture that was successful for 30 years may sound like a great idea—if you live in a time bubble!
DEC ignored its customers, and let the innovators duke it out. As you know, their market share gradually eroded and they were eventually acquired by Compaq Computer.
Our vocabulary is an incredibly powerful tool. Author and consultant Alan Weiss says that “language controls the discussion, discussion controls the relationship, and relationship controls the business.” This is especially true when you are selling knowledge and advisory services. For example, how many times do you say, “We don’t want any clients who don’t value what we offer . . . we don’t want to finance our clients’ success by undercharging.” By focusing on what we don’t want—instead of zeroing in on what we do want—our brains actually ignore the negative word “don’t” and direct our energy toward the things that we’re working against. Instead, try to use words that positively describe what you’re aiming for: “We want sincerely growth-oriented clients who want to significantly increase their bottom line.”
Meta-programs are additional thought patterns and filters that determine how you experience the world. Here are just a few from my book:
? Motivation filter: Do we typically design plans that move us toward our vision, or away from what we do not want?
? Orientation filter: Are we typically motivated to do things that others expect us to do (also known as our “should do” list), or are we driven to make choices based on what we do well and passionately?
? Focus filter: Do your plans and conversations focus on yourself or on other people? Instead of operating in listening mode, too many businesspeople operate in one of two modes: talking or waiting to talk.
? Comparison filter: Is your natural tendency to look for similarities in people, places, situations, and things? Do you look for sameness? If so, you prefer routines. If you look for differences, you crave diversity and variety.
When we are under stress from today’s complex, external events, our filters can be easily triggered. That’s why very strong self-awareness of your behavior style and mindsets can really help you make smart choices about how you approach planning. As leaders, it’s our jobs to master our growth mindsets. This is a surefire way to minimize the amount of time we spend on unproductive activity and on aligning our teams towards common business goals.