Strategy Hacks #3.....Rear View Thinking


We have just begun a series analyzing excuses that I frequently hear about why organizations have no functional strategic plan. For each excuse I suggest some diagnostic steps and a treatment plan. So far we have covered the "Too busy" and the "Done already" excuses.

Excuse #3: Eyes on the Rear-View Mirror 

CEOs in these organizations say that they don't have a strategic plan because they are focused on providing excellence right now. Laudable, but that is really a smoke screen. Focus on the present makes these organizations always one step behind; always reactive. They focus on correcting the most recently discovered fault/ error/ oversight rather than establishing processes to anticipate and prevent errors. They are looking backward, not forward. In these organizations there is no culture or expectation of proactive thinking. Without an anticipatory frame of mind throughout the organization there is little chance to see the structural or systems reasons for repeated errors or to create a strategy to avoid patterns of errors. Early signs of developing opportunity are also missed when all present attention is on correcting currently identified mistakes.


Determine at what level the organization is attending to internal errors and customer or member complaints. Have a look through the past six month of whatever sort of error log might exist. What proportion is flagged from inside the organization?

Is there a standard process for logged incidents? Are there routine analytics and error compilation? Is there standardized routing for follow-up and resolution? Chart the organizational response. What percentage is concluded by adding more supervision or more individual training versus system changes that prevent errors?

Is there any routine for reflection on errors or error sets? Where does that consideration occur in the organization and how often? Is there any element of prevention in these discussions?

What is the reporting chain: what is the nature of the reports that get to the leadership team (the senior staff, CEO and the Board Chair)? What happens then?


Choice-supporting bias is often detectable in the leadership of these organizations. Committed to a focus on present performance, these leaders will tend to feel positive about their choice, as flawed as it might be. In fact, choice-supporting bias prevents leaders from even noticing otherwise apparent flaws.

Documentation and careful consideration of the organizations' current response to errors will help point out improvement possibilities even with the myopic focus on the present. Discussion about reflection on error sets and prevention strategies as close as possible to the error sites introduces a future focus: "what can we do to prevent this in future regardless of the specific actors involved?" Once the minds are introduced to forward focus planning, segue into discussion about more strategic planning: "what else should/ could we be doing in or about the future?"

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