Political Divides & Business Strategic Planning: Power of Assumptions

Politicians are responsible for addressing complex issues – challenges that are multi-faceted and involve making tough trade-off decisions when key pieces of information are unknown. Politicians also have the particularly challenging task of bridging ideological divides by working with many interest groups that have competing agendas, priorities, and perspectives. These divides can get further widened when complex issues are framed on just one-or-two aspects, rather than a complex web of considerations.

When breaking down and offering solutions for highly complex issues like immigration or healthcare, it’s of course important to understand the technical policy aspects of the issue (think a policy wonk). But equally, if not more importantly, it’s also critical to understand the deeply held beliefs and assumptions that underlie our policy perspectives, as these are typically the greater source of disagreement across individuals and interest groups. These deeper aspects of our personal politics are hard to pinpoint in others and can be just as challenging for a person to perceive and articulate for themselves!

We sometimes see similar issues play themselves out in the business world. Strategic decision making can be hard work and gaining true alignment on complex issues requires rigorous analysis and debate on multiple levels of an issue. I suspect many of us have seen instances when the implementation of a business strategy was sub-optimized because the core problem statement was not sufficiently articulated, or that fundamental issues at the heart of strategic choices were not fully vetted.

Why? It’s just harder to put our fingers on values and assumptions as they are more complex and nuanced. We all have them and they are powerful predictors of strategy views and tactics. It’s more difficult to step back and have thoughtful discussions based on rigorous analysis of these core issues, requiring us to suspend our personal views. Also, because we are under constant pressure to deliver results, we are (understandably) more willing to move quickly and accept some degree of error, rather than take the risk of taking more time to act, and not necessarily increasing the likelihood of making better decisions or achieving better outcomes. This is the essence of the 80/20 rule. Finally, values and assumptions have deeper personal meaning that can raise emotions, which can shut down dialogue and undermine good decision making.

Why does this matter? If the goal is to have the best possible strategy to solve a problem and have full alignment so that all are working collectively to maximize performance and achieve objectives, then taking the time to outline where values and assumptions align and don’t align can save a lot of time, effort, and money.

How do you know if you are in a situation like this at work or in your business? A tell-tale sign is if you’ve been working on a complex problem but it continues to persist. You may be framing the issue without sufficiently surfacing and resolving fundamental assumptions. Another potential indication is the presence of emotion. If strong emotions are present, it may suggest that deeper assumptions and values are potentially not being considered or addressed. These indicators and issues can diminish true alignment and increase the likelihood that implementation and execution is sub-optimized.

Good strategic planning processes and facilitation skills encourage rigorous analysis at all levels, increasing the likelihood of making the better decisions, increasing true alignment, and maximizing the likelihood of successful implementation and execution.

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