Why We Need More “Whys” in Strategic Planning
A while back, I published an article about The Role of Critical Evaluation in Strategic Planning. In the article, I discussed the value of asking, “Why?” in the corporate strategic planning process. A simple question, yet powerfully thought-provoking, “Why?” is too often missing from our decision-making vocabulary. Why, what if, and other forms of critical evaluation contribute to a more effective decision-making process by promoting debate and discussion that is necessary to achieve the best possible outcome.
Why is “Why?” Missing from Corporate Strategic Planning?
It’s important to first recognize the reasons the question “why” often goes unasked and unanswered. If it’s such a powerful question, why is it so often replaced by “sounds good to me” or other such passive responses?
In my experience, here are some of the most common reasons we see for neglecting to ask why:
We’re afraid to challenge ideas.
The fact is that all ideas need to be challenged – even seemingly good ones. When we ask ourselves why this is a good idea, our questioning challenges us to think through our ideas and improve upon them as needed. Asking why enables us to identify potentially risky or harmful strategies that could have long term impacts on the business.
We don’t trust our instincts.
How many times have you felt in your gut that a decision or strategy is just not right? When you get that feeling do you immediately begin to question the strategy or decision? Often, our instincts go unaddressed out of fear of “rocking the boat” or “throwing a wrench” in the plans. Instead, we should encourage ourselves and others to question decisions that just don’t feel right.
We choose not to participate in making decisions.
Sometimes, individuals with the experience or wisdom to contribute to the decision making process elect to opt-out of the process. Maybe it’s a fear of making the wrong decision, or lack of interest or desire to challenge mediocre suggestions, or an unwillingness to put oneself out on the line to challenge the status quo. Whatever the reason, when we excuse ourselves from the decision making process we bypass a potentially valuable opportunity to improve the strategic direction of the organization.
We leave our critical thinking “cap” at the door.
In our “real” lives outside of work, many of us tend to be much more critical in our thinking than we are inside the workplace. When it’s our families or our own money at stake we question everything. Yet, inside the organization we neglect to put our life lessons and common sense to work.
How to bring “why?” into the corporate strategic planning process:
Critical evaluation can help us avoid poor choices and stop bad ideas. Critical evaluation and asking why can protect us from trusting consensus or the person speaking the loudest, and instead confirm that the direction we’re headed is indeed in the best interest of the organization.
In the world of business we have an obligation to challenge and improve. Look at Enron whose “ask why” tagline was clearly not being enacted inside the organization. In corporate strategic planning, we need a process that leads us through a critical evaluation. This process should challenge the status quo and drive better performance through a constructive current-state evaluation.
For example, if the organization is losing market share. Ask why. If the cost containment strategy is not working, ask why. These questions will undoubtedly lead to bigger picture questioning of the overarching organizational direction. As such, our corporate strategic planning must force such evaluation to take place, systematically.
To bring this critical evaluation into your corporate strategic planning efforts, the process must structure the evaluation and solicit questions and answers about current problems in the business. The process must challenge our collective ideas about the overarching vision, mission, and objectives of the organization.
Today’s business leaders have an obligation to introduce critical evaluation into their strategic decision process and planning acumen. As a society, we must encourage free thinking and reward those who constructively challenge, innovate, and participate in making our models more successful by asking “why”. Why? Because the health of our businesses and the economy depend on it.
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